Silt fences are often perimeter controls, typically used in combination with sediment basins and sediment traps, as well as erosion controls, which are designed to retain sediment in place where soil is being disturbed by construction processes (i.e., land grading and other earthworks).
A typical fence consists of a piece of synthetic filter fabric (also called a geotextile) stretched between a series of wooden or metal fence stakes along a horizontal contour level. The stakes are installed on the downhill side of the fence, and the bottom edge of the fabric can be trenched into the soil and backfilled on the uphill side, although it is quite difficult to move the trenched “spoil” from the downside to the upside of the trench. The design/placement of the silt fence should create a pooling of runoff, which then allows sedimentation to occur. Water can seep through the silt fence fabric, but the fabric often becomes “blocked off” with fine soil particles (all sediment-retention devices have this challenge, and none of them “filter” storm water for very long).