What Can We Do About Mass Wasting?
In a natural setting, mass wasting presents little threat. Most slopes are relatively stable most of the time. However, when people modify slopes—their gravitational loads, or their water content—they may become unstable and fail. Engineers can study the stresses acting on a slope, test the material of which it is made, make some assumptions about behavior with higher pore pressure, etc., and predict how likely that slope is to fail if the additional load of a house were added to it. This study might conclude that the slope would still be stable, and so the house might be constructed. Later, after it has changed hands a few times, a new owner might decide to put in a swimming pool. A neighbor in the property just downhill, might decide to cut into the slope in order to widen a driveway, or a neighbor just uphill might inadvertently introduce large amounts of water into the ground while trying to maintain a gracious green lawn. Any one of these actions could bring the slope close to where it is unstable. A period of heavy rain could provide the final impetus, and a sudden mass wasting event could occur. To avoid such problems, property owners on such slopes must have their freedoms restricted. One way to accomplish this is to prohibit certain activities through zoning, deed restrictions, or insurance requirements. A less satisfactory means is by threat of litigation.
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Costa, John E., and Gerald F. Wieczorek, eds. Debris Flows/Avalanches: Process, Recognition, and Mitigation. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America, 1987.
Haneberg, William C. and Scott A. Anderson, eds. Clay And Shale Slope Instability. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America, 1995.
Press, Frank, and Raymond Siever. Understanding Earth. New York: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1994.
Small, R.J., and M.J. Clark Slopes And Weathering. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Otto H. Muller
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