Reinforcement and protection of watercourse embankments - vinyl sheet piles and willow hurdles technology comparison

Vinyl sheet piles installed to protect an embankment of a private pond


Vinyl sheet piles have been used in the broadly understood infrastructure construction, covering many industries, both on land and in water. Owing to their low weight, ease and speed of installation and exceptional durability, structures made of PVC profiles are becoming more and more popular also in projects previously dominated by traditional technologies. In the case of investments aimed at securing and reinforcement of embankments of watercourses and reservoirs, can vinyl sheet piles be a better choice than technologies such as willow hurdles?

Willow hurdles have been used for centuries in hydroengineering and land reclamation works to reinforce the embankments of water reservoirs and rivers. Additionally, this technology has served for the construction of water retention structures including fish ladders, water thresholds and dams.

Willow hurdles serve several functions, including:

  • preventing floodings,
  • protecting against bank erosion,
  • safeguarding people and/or grazing cattle from falling into the water.

Traditional willow hurdles are characterized by distinctive willow or pine wattles. They prove highly effective in river regulation and safeguarding towns and villages against destructive impact of water.

However, this traditional technology is not entirely free from drawbacks:

  • natural materials degrade relatively quickly, requiring frequent repairs or replacements
  • weaving willow hurdles itself requires significant skill and experience;
  • it is time-consuming, and there are fewer people knowledgeable about the intricacies of willow hurdle weaving,
  • despite the use of natural materials, their construction is quite costly.

Alternative to willow hurdles: ecological but durable

Lightweight, durable, and ecologically neutral vinyl sheet piles offer a worthy alternative to the traditional willow hurdles. Profiles made from PVC can be used for both bank reinforcement and to construct water retention structures such as river ladders, dams and sluices or water thresholds.

Vinyl piles are characterized by:

  • high durability and resistance to adverse effects of weather, biological factors, and mechanical stress,
  • enhanced erosion resistance,
  • easy installation, which can be carried out using traditional equipment,
  • low weight, making them require minimal transportation efforts and can be safely delivered even to remote locations

Willow hurdles - can vinyl sheet piles replace the centuries old embankment reinforcement technique?

When thinking about methods of protecting the existing banks of ponds and watercourses such as drainage ditches, the most important aspect to pay attention to is the durability of the structure and its reliability.

In this matter, vinyl sheet piles made of PVC material have an undoubted advantage. The warranty for PVC profiles is 50 years because of the extreme resistance of the material to biological, chemical and environmental factors. Moreover, polyvinyl chloride does not corrode in any way. Properly designed and constructed shore protection using vinyl sheet pile technology will certainly stand the test of time in changing water conditions.

On the other hand, in the case of willow hurdles reinforcement, one may talk about a maximum of several years durability, since changing water level significantly will considerably accelerate the decay processes of the wood. For this reason, the willow hurdles reinforcement must be replaced on a cyclical basis.

 Using vinyl sheet piles, despite the initially higher cost, helps ensure that the structure protecting the bank against erosion will last much longer without the necessity to carry out costly maintenance and repair work. Additionally, the low weight of the profiles and their modular structure allow for flexibility in design and ease of transport to the construction site.


Vinyl sheet piles are definitely worth perceiving as a versatile alternative to traditional methods of embankment protection.

Their ease of installation, durability and environmental benefits, make them a choice worth considering by engineers and decision-makers in the construction and agricultural industries.

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