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Conservation Corner

Need Soils Site Data?

Tue, August 23, 2011

Before you dig or build—in fact, before you start planning to dig or build—there is something you must investigate first: the soil. To assist your research, consider using a digital soils application created by professional soil scientists nationwide—the Web Soil Survey www.websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov. According to all the soil scientists at the Illinois Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), you’ll be glad you did!


“The science of soil is a fascinating area of study,” says Gary Struben, State Soil Scientist for Illinois’ NRCS. “The Web Soil Survey, or WSS, is a modern application that pulls together site-specific soil data characteristics to ensure individuals, professions, and industries find success,” Struben adds. Data in WSS is a product of the National Cooperative Soil Survey, a joint effort of USDA’s NRCS and other Federal agencies, State agencies, and other partners.

NRCS continues to promote use of the WSS tool, deemed successful and valuable because using WSS’ web tool is fast and easy. “You define the site or location in question, access soil data to select properties to investigate, run a report of the findings, and then print or download the report,” says Struben.

With the WSS, users access data about physical and chemical soil properties. They then correlate those properties with map data to determine how well suited (or poorly suited) a site is for a particular land use or project.

“Think about it—soil properties, strengths and weaknesses—are key to the success or the failure of nearly every project,” says Bill Gradle, State Conservationist for NRCS. “Whether it’s a new house with a basement, a tree planting project, or the development of a new business strip mall. Soils on the site can make it or break it.”

First launched in August 2005, WSS is used thousands of times daily by engineers, planners, builders and scientists. Interpretations and recommendations generated from soil data are ideal for anyone deciding where or how to dig. Current WSS soil data is available for every Illinois county, rural or urban, and for more than 90% of counties across the nation. 

“Of all the layers users download to create maps or whatever digital image or GPS scenario you need, make sure your base layer includes the soil. Why? Because that’s what you’re building on to or in to. Soil should be considered first—it’s that important,” Struben adds.

USDA history confirms agricultural producers have used Soil Survey reports for nearly 100 years; they still use them today. WSS is the 21st Century version of those reports, offering priceless advice and data to landowners and others in search of wise and successful land use decisions.

WSS contains valuable digital data and allows users to query, sort, and correlate information with a quick and user-friendly online application. “And because WSS is a technical aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is available free of charge and without commercials or advertisements,” says Gradle.

To visit or investigate soils involved in your next earth-moving project, visit www.websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov today!

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