#EDS112016 Earth Dikes and Swales

An earth dike is a temporary berm or ridge of compacted soil used to divert runoff or channel water to a desired location. A drainage swale is a shaped and sloped depression in the soil surface used to convey runoff to a desired location. Earth dikes alone do not control erosion or remove sediment laden run-off (BMP Fact Sheet EC-9). Earth dikes and drainage swales are used to divert runoff around the construction site, divert runoff from stabilized areas and disturbed areas, and direct runoff into sediment basins or traps.


Earth Dikes

Temporary earth dikes are a practical, inexpensive BMP used to divert stormwater runoff.

  • All dikes should have positive drainage to an outlet.
  • All dikes should have 2:1 or flatter side slopes, 18 in. minimum height, and a minimum top width of 24 in. Wide top widths and flat slopes are usually needed at crossings for construction traffic.
  • The outlet from the earth dike must function with erosion. Runoff should be conveyed to a sediment trapping device such as a Sediment Trap (SE-3) or Sediment Basin

Drainage Swales

Drainage swales are only effective if they are properly installed. Swales are more effective than dikes because they tend to be more stable. The combination of a swale with a dike on the downhill side is the most cost effective diversion.

  • No more than 5 acres may drain to a temporary drainage swale.
  • Place drainage swales above or below, not on, a cut or fill slope.
  • Swale bottom width should be at least 2 ft
  • Depth of the swale should be at least 18 in.
  • Side slopes should be 2:1 or flatter.


A combination dike and swale is easily constructed by a single pass of a bulldozer or grader and compacted by a second pass of the tracks or wheels over the ridge. The flow out of the drain or swale must be directed onto a stabilized area or into a grade stabilization structure. If significant erosion will occur, a swale should be stabilized using vegetation, chemical treatment, rock rip-rap, matting, or other physical means of stabilization. Any drain or swale that conveys sediment laden runoff must be diverted into a sediment basin or trap before it is discharged from the site. For more information, refer to BMP Fact Sheet EC-9.