Water Design

Main frame water design tactics need to be high on the priority list when starting any new project. The first thing we think about when considering whether to buy a property, develop a property, or rehabilitate a property has to be water design.

Conventional water design assumed large amounts of fossil fuel for operation and maintenance so it was mostly oriented around draining water away as quick as possible. But since our primary purpose is to harvest and put to work all the natural energy passing through our property that we possibly can, our water designs will look quite different from those that treat water as a problem.

Many of these older designs would fall apart quickly if the lights went out and the pumps stopped running.  So it becomes the responsibility of the Permaculture Designer to find ways to sustainably manage water resources.

In the I Ching, the well is the center of the village, the center of life, the first important item to look for when considering a new settlement. This wisdom is still appropriate today, and applies whether structuring the ponds and swales of a 1000 acre farm, or a 1/3 acre lot in suburbia.

Certainly most places will have infrastructure and natural features that may complicate the issue, but whatever the situation, water is always the defining characteristic of production and life. As such, it needs to be first on our list when starting any project.

This is the design I submitted in my 2014 Permaculture courseThe red lines are boundaries,the black line a driveway and the yellow lines are dams and swales.  The swale in it’s simplest form is a water harvesting trench on contour. It stops the flow of water downhill, and soaks it into the ground, or directs it sideways in very heavy rainfall. The incomplete swale in between the two major swales is a good example of working around existing infrastructure.

With large parts of the dam construction already accomplished, the design is well under way to completion. The  dam and pond in the center of the photo has an arbitrary designation of HGP. Moving to the left is the Lower Gully Pond LGP, and following the contour there to the next pond is the Contour Pond.

Follow that same contour line to the very top of the photo at the boundary line and a small gully pond might normally be part of the design, but this is an example of running into the boundary and out of the designers’ control. A swale at this point can start to run uphill off contour along that boundary to control that water and channel it back into useful storage.

Or this might be a point where property owners might collaborate in building a dam to store and soak water, which might require some education and legal consideration to protect both parties.

The smallest pond between the Contour Pond and that shared pond is the Ridge Point Pond.

Currently it has been a dry summer and even though I held back a fair amount of water in the ponds since their creation in January, they are pretty dry right now. The original fish pond (not identified in the design) has the most water, primarily due to large releases from the LGP a few weeks ago when it appeared we might be getting some rain.

 

 

 

Lack of water at this stage doesn’t really concern me very much with respect to the success of the design since it takes about 7 years for a landscape to become fully hydrated. The HGP lost water quickly to the sedimentary rock with some clay that forms most of the pond area, and has no swales developed to add more water. Add to the natural losses the water I deliberately drained before the end of the rainy season and the current very low levels were really expected.

Even though it is down to a small fraction of the water it held back in the Spring, I know that “lost” water will continue to hydrate the surrounding soil and the existing pond life and other natural processes will start to form seals in the rock to slow the “losses” in future.

High Gully pond looking at dam

HGP looking toward the back    at high water this Spring

This last photo is recent, down to a foot or so of depth, but one good band of rain from a hurricane could change it all. Even just a couple inches to keep the catfish alive would help right now.

The Lower Gully Pond / Dam is just above the fish pond and has been the only partial failure in management thus far. The trunk of the larger tree is immersed in the first two photos taken in June (left) – The last one taken in August after a final release of water into the fish pond. Note that tree is  now high and dry on the far right center of the photo.

During the early Spring rains I was gone from the property for several major rain events in a row and the caretaker did not know how to open the drain valve or manage the water levels, and when I returned there was a partial breach that must have been somewhat forceful at first. Heavy rocks were moved at the waterfall going into the fish pond and there was some heavy erosion in the lower driveway from a sustained volume of water.

The net effect of the dams, however has been positive and overall the breach was mostly just a miscommunication, since it could have been avoided with proper management. The breach did affect how much water I felt safe in holding, so the rains that followed were kept well below the previous breach, even though a wheelbarrow and some time quickly repaired that small section.

For the long term, the goal is to have them self regulate with controlled/directed overflows taken away from the dam proper. Once dam height and width is to spec and swales are properly installed, the only thing that will breach the dam might be an earthquake or deliberate activity that compromises the features

Presently my work is to cut saplings, survey and generally get preliminary work done before renting the backhoe again, but like any good designer, I spend a lot of time doing observation–some might call it spacing out, but I have started to see a pattern developing since the dams have started to hold back “normal”  water flows.

Looking forward to a time when the surface water storages are full, it becomes obvious that more will be needed and I’m looking at another swale a little above the level of the Fish Pond.  I also see the potential for swales below the Fish Pond, but those may become part of a generational development not manifested all at once

Early Spring- The PVC pipe has never been used but would be a drain if the pond ever needed cleaning. Note the water level is about a foot down in the picture above, but nearly full in this picture. Waterfall supplying Fish Pond. the roks and gravel help with oxygenation.

Currently this area is covered with weeds, but somewhere in that gravel lined pool below the fall there are bulrushes and water irises.the proportions here may seem larger, but the fall is only about 4 feet high sediment pond that supplies the waterfall. In time I would hope this pond will stay full through the summer and be a source of duck weed which the gold fish eat to extinction. It can grow here then be released a little at a time through a drain that bypasses the waterfall

Water Lillies

Note the few scattered Lotuses  closer to the bottom of the photo that were  planted at the end of last year, they are now threatening to take over the pond

Water Plants can be quite useful providing shade keeping the water cool, and also provide food for the fish. But in a pond like this small one, with so many fish and water levels reduced by half, they could block the surface area of the pond where oxygen is exchanged. Submerged plants actually consume oxygen at night and on cloudy days.

Some people forget that plant respiration goes one way in light, sequestering carbon and releasing oxygen, but then reverses at night, consuming oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide.  Wild systems usually avoid this naturally, with continuous oxygenation from flowing water and various animals and fish consuming enough plants to balance the system. These gold fish, however, do not consume Water Lilies, and the deer have a problem accessing them.

The soil is mostly a sedimentary gravel/rock mix in both the Ridge Point and Contour ponds. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that these ponds act as dry wells, pushing water underground , bad in the sense that they fill a little, then harbor mosquitoes for a while and empty, killing eggs and larvae of the critters that might control the mosquitoes in a more permanent pond.

The  Contour pond currently gets lots of run off from the driveway, and suspended clay carried by this water has started to provide an effective seal. driveway with ditch leading to CP contour pond immediately after a heavy rain event

The Ridge Point Pond  is located in the background upper right, and the back edge of the “pond” is basically described by the sunlight in front of the trees across the top of the photo. Mostly a dry hole now,  the swale that is intended to supply it has not yet been connected. Even so, the rain has started the sealing process, and water that used to roll off the ridge now soaks into the ground. I’ll get more photos up when I find them.

The Ridge Point  pond has an interesting place in this design, and will likely take longer to seal than the other ponds. It has the potential to act as the overflow drain for the whole upper part of the property, including not only its’ connected swale, but also  overflow water from the cistern, and overflow from the High Gully Dam.

These “dry” holes, actually can become quite productive over time. Rice for instance only needs to be immersed in water early in its’ life cycle to control weeds. Taro can grow in water or very wet humus, likewise with Water Chestnuts and Kang Kong. The Circular nature of both dams lend themselves easily to a dome greenhouse structure covering them, creating a season extension.  Having a direct access to water through poly pipe from the HGP, both the ridge Point and Contour ponds can be easily irrigated through the summer (Once that dam starts to hold a little more water.)

When dealing with something as expensive as a dam, it’s better safe than sorry. If you are thinking about building a dam, study, study, study. If you are trying to grow fish you will need to examine the soil and make sure the subsurface is not going to leak like a sieve. There are ways to overcome these sealing problems, but it’s good to know about them before hand.

I knew, for instance, the likelihood of a serious amount of rocky clay the farther I got out of the gullys. That expectation grew out of observation of a bench cut  in the slope next to the fish pond. Seeing that type of soil disturbance can provide a great map of what to expect once you start to dig.

Under the accumulated clay that one would expect in a low spot or keypoint type formation in a gully there are a wide range of possibilities. Knowing the geologic history of the area can also help predict the soil types one might expect to find.

Still, these preliminary observations and research are no guarantee, and test holes will be the final judge of how a pond might work in any specific location.

Even if your primary goal is erosion control, and holding water in a pond is not a necessity, the Dam itself needs to have enough clay and a good construction. Hire an expert backhoe operator experienced in these constructions, or research carefully appropriate techniques for your area.

Well built and protected a dam will be there for a thousand years providing multiple benefits to the surrounding area with minimal maintenance.

I consider my dams to be erosion control, and was inspired after watching the torrents of water that would flow for days after a heavy rain running from the fish pond to the creek. This sort of erosion is actually normal here, and the excess water from my land was duplicated over and over up and down the creek, causing large flows that have washed away the bridge over a secondary highway several times.

These sorts of controls are desperately needed almost everywhere and while I may not prevent the whole creek from flooding,  at least I’m trying to do my part to keep my land from contributing to the flood. Over time, if intelligent management becomes the norm, small ponds like these will be the best way to manage water. Large dams that flood whole regions have a host of problems, many of which are only now becoming known, while small ponds can become the life blood of an ecosystem..

One obscure bit of information I had never considered was reported in a survey and analysis  that stated the hydroelectric power created by the large dams in the North West and Canada was not worth the lost fertility in the forest from the migration of salmon upstream from the ocean. Add that to the fact that many of these dams have silted up and are no longer efficient producers of power, or have deteriorated and become unsafe, and the net effect seems to indicate they should never have been built.

Small dams like mine are located in places those migratory fish would never reach directly under normal conditions. A small dam failure is of little consequence to the surrounding community, but contrast this with the huge amount of water sent downstream by the Army Corps of Engineers recently after Hurricane Harvey.

They had to release so much water to protect these large reservoir dams that many houses which had not been injured by the hurricane needed to be evacuated because of the man made high water from these very large dam projects.

As a conclusion to this water design post, let me include the newest project, the link provides a good theoretical and practical explanation of the process.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzaInlFVq0s

The creek already had a dam with a fiberglass 3 ” pipe going through the dam and yesterday  I used a gutter adhesive to fasten this cleanout pvc fitting that has a threaded end to allow for easy changes in whatever attachments I might want to make to the water flow. In this case a 1 inch CPVC pipe

Normally it would be difficult and very expensive to buy assorted fittings to adapt to a 3″ thread. Lowes had nothing but the normal cleanout plugI found a drill bit that was almost a perfect size for the 1 inch pipeglued it in place and then screwed the assembly into the cleanout fitting. After I opened the water flow I did get the ram going, but after waiting overnight there was still no water at the fish pond. One mistake was not installing unions that would allow easy removal of the pump, because shortly after discussing the issue with a friend who had an operational pump, we decided the problem could be the lengthy supply line (150 feet).

Shortening that line gave me a slight water flow at the Fish Pond, but the reality of a short fall at the dam and the height to raise the water to coupled with the size of the pump meant it was really about as good as could be expected.

Some tips, if you try something like this, make sure your valves move very freely, friction, stickiness, anything that affects the reaction time of the valves could be the difference between a functional pump and a failed experiment.

A pressure gauge between the pressure tank and the output line may give an easier way to monitor the pump operation without running up and down the hill checking the output. In this case the operation of the “waste”  valve is affected by gravity. A little experimentation and I found some slight adjustments in the vertical angle of that waste valve could speed up or slow down the rate of the ram action.

The new supply line is about 20 feet long, and the 1/2 inch output line was slightly longer but at almost the same elevation. Changing the rate of the ram action of the pump did not seem to have a large effect on the output, but a pressure gauge would probably help with finding the most efficient action of the pump.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall

September 6, 2017

Walking back from the fish pond in the rain, I had this new sense of well being, and not just because of the relief from drought and hot temperatures.  Of course this time of year there is always the possibility of monsoons, or hurricanes dropping large amounts of water all at once, but today I documented the rise of about two feet in the level of the fish pond.

This was not due to rain, but because of a decision to start the waterfall by draining the remainder of water behind the Low Gully Dam. I could have done this sooner, but decided to hold onto the water there until I felt fairly sure we had turned the corner on water supply to the garden. Because of the steady rain, I felt safe enough in the garden requirements and the filling cistern to go ahead and release the impounded water.

Although they don’t say much, I’m sure the goldfish are quite grateful for the extra oxygenated water being continuously fed into their pond  down below, which, because of the other dams recently constructed, has been receiving less water than before during the rains. But even with the rains, in years past, this time of year still sees that pond 3-4 feet below the high water mark.  So my feeling of well being was really due to the ability to release on demand water for the fish pond.  In future, the simple turning of a valve can save a pond full of fish if there is an extended dry spell.

P.A. Yeoman would say that ponds on a farm should be empty at the start of the rainy season, and it was tantamount to greed to try and hold onto that water when it could/should be sent to fields or places that might be able to use some extra. Also of course, that way the ponds can be cleaned, dams inspected and repaired, and generally made ready to hold their full capacity when the rains start all over again. In this case the water went to the fish, not gardens, but in future the High Gully Dam will likely have some excess water for gardens during the dry season.

Harvey, the hurricane, just dropped several feet of water down in Huston, and even the best prepared water design systems might be overwhelmed by that sort of exceptional stress, although a really good design still allows a way out when everything else is full to overflowing.  In this case, there was the fear that aqueducts might break under the flood, causing even more damage to those in the valley below.

This can be a reminder that there is always the possibility of extremes even the best planners can’t foresee. While larger dams may be without secondary outlets, swales can take water away from the valley/gully where one would expect the worst accumulations of water, and as it spills over the swale at an intentional low spot on the swale, the water must find a new path back to the gully and more and more of it’s destructive erosive force can be lessened. At each dam the water is stopped and taken again and again out of the valley to the areas that normally would get less water and need it most.

While large well engineered dams can be magnificent, more,smaller dams can do a better job at the task of stop, spread, and soak. With fresh water becoming scarce, anything that can keep more of that fresh water from running out to sea is a welcome detour.

As trees disappear and the normal water cycle becomes interrupted, small dams and swales are recognized as the answer to these sudden events, and properly implemented, the swales (which are a tree growing system) can even help lead the landscape into a more naturally balanced water cycle with bands of trees on contour controlling the flood.

So while my swales are not yet fully developed, and my dams are still somewhat at the mercy of the rain, at least they are stopping most of the water that used to run directly to the creek and off the property. And this year enough of that water remained to substantially raise the water level in the fish pond when it otherwise might be stagnant.

As the ground becomes better hydrated each year I would expect to have more and more water, until there is a natural subterranean flow that automatically keeps all the ponds full, and all the swales growing trees.

It is easy to speculate how far hydration may take a basically dry landscape, but it is enough for me to feel good by being able to turn a valve and fill a pond with water that might have been long gone many months ago.

 

The daily grind

August 24th

For whatever reason I woke in the middle of the night and  never got back to sleep. So after much tossing and turning the light finally inspired me to get up–that plus Lucky whining at me.

So most of the day was tedious, although I was able to get a few things under control. The rain yesterday only seemed to leak in one place, not an obvious solution, but next time it rains I’ll pay attention to it. I continued painting the fiberglass panels, which are  as bad as fiberglass insulation in many ways, with dust that sticks to the skin and is like hundreds of little needles. The paint seems to lessen that to almost nothing. Painting also will lengthen the life, waterproof,  and strengthen the light weight panels.

Although I’m weaning away from the panels on the roof, they are actually quite useful and a quick coat of latex paint will not only help make them more waterproof, but will bind up the fiberglass dust and make them easier to handle.

The idea is that these are a resource that may be useful in future if they are maintained well now. They go on quickly, providing some structure and waterproofing and have proven invaluable in past temporary applications.

At any rate, the paint has been lying around for years now and needs to be used up, so this seems like a good way to do it.

I also was busy taking inventory and cleaning up outside, and did some studying of the inner roof structure, planning the next phase of the roof stabilization. It is easier to do repairs and fasten things where they belong now than it is in the middle of a snow storm.

Anyway, I did figure out how to proceed with the rain gutter installation, and tomorrow morning I’ll be setting up 3 or 4 sections of the roof with gutters going to the cistern. There are also several panels in the roof now that need to be moved around a bit. The work I did the other day means that the sections are all level with each other and panels can overlap from one section to the next.  While I was arranging the flat boards as rafters the panels got moved around a bit also, so some were out of place anyway and a couple good winds could cause some problems.

In the cleanup I was not only bringing order to chaos, but getting rid of stuff, and the next trip to town I’ll have several boxes of stuff for the dump. I also was able to empty several of the big plastic containers and make a little more floor space here and there.

August 25, 2017

A little better sleep last night, I discovered the reason I was having trouble sleeping was because it was getting too cold, and in recent cleanups I had removed all the winter blankets to air them out. About midnight I went into the spare room and found a light summer blanket and slept till 5.

Cutting up trees around the upper pond, cleaning left over debris away from the edge and moving it all to the high water mark after the dam is finished this fall. Listening to one of the Permaculture course videos I was reminded that regulations in this over regulated world can have lots of ways around them.

On a small scale, pond dams can often be classified as erosion control devices, ponds can also be used in irrigation management and it is all true.  This upper dam may in fact never hold water all the way through the seasons, but it certainly helps control erosion.

The fish pond likewise started out as a driveway crossing, and the fact that it  holds water is a happy accident.

Anyway, wearing a jacket and leather gloves was a great way to work since it avoids so many cuts. And I made a pretty good dent in many of the chain saw cuts that needed to be made.

One of the first things I did on the house was get out another gallon of mistinted paint and paint more of the fiberglass panels. The first color was a dark pink, this made it much whiter. I’ve heard Seattle grey is the uniform color they make from all the old paint that is recycled there. I will likely add another gallon or two of whatever else I can find. There’s still lots of panels to paint, and I’m also painting those that are not in use.

I’ve been working on repairing the wheel of a lawn mower I just got back, and after two days using a wire brush and penetrating oil at periodic intervals the nut finally broke free with no damage to the wheel or the nut. A couple of really big washers to help stabilize the broken metal on the mower body, a few bits of tinkering to flatten and straighten the torn bits, and I was able to use one of the remaining holes to mount the wheel.

I started out filling the gas tank with diesel fuel accidentally, so had to dump that out and then refill with gasoline. I didn’t worry about getting all of the diesel out because that simply acts as a carburetor cleaner – or at least that’s what my uncle told me. He said during the gasoline rationing in world war 2 they use to regularly mix their gas with diesel to stretch their ration. He said except for the extra smoke it worked just fine.

Anyway, once I got the mower started I didn’t want to stop it, so I spent the next half hour cutting paths through the tall grass. If the wheel is still in good shape there’s a meadow to cut that is starting to see some volunteer trees moving in.

I was up on the ladder and the roof, and will go up once more to see if I can get those boards cut right on the first section so I can install a fascia board. We have at least two more days forecast as even cooler weather, perfect for that sort of work. I also found the section of gutter that adapts to the downspout, so at some point I’ll be ready to power through the details and install it, but for now I’m content taking my time making small steps getting ready.

There’s also always a bit or two that needs to be carried to the trash or put in the right place. The object is to continue to create space and get rid of junk.

August 26, 2017

Last night before dusk I went ahead and cut the secondary rafters to allow the placement of a fascia board, quite a lovely sight to see the ends tied together in a more professional manner, and the next step will be extending the fascia on at least three more sides.

Since the  work needs to be completed on this water collecting feature, I’m already thinking about how to cut the angles for the rain gutters.  With non traditional designs like this one all the fittings need to be custom made. I have some experience with this from cutting rain gutters for the octagon, and expect these to be reasonably straightforward, and likely I can manufacture the critical cuts and joining on the ground, and have only one or two angles to assemble from the ladder. I can already hear the next batch of rainwater running down the spout into the cistern.

After the trip to town I’ll be looking forward to cutting grass, fitting fascia boards, cutting trees, clearing debris, and cutting and fitting gutter angles. But for right now I think it’s time to walk around and find rain gutters and hangers so I know if I need to buy anything.

August 31, 2017

A lot has happened since I last wrote. Fascia and gutters on 6 sides, general cleanup and work on pond sites.

Today however was a real dooser  although it started out very straight forward clearing more debris from the high pond expansion area, then little bits and pieces of cleanup, visit to a friend, then decided to cut the grass around the walnut tree at my neighbors house.

After most of the critical grass under the tree had been cut things got ugly and ended up with me being chased a considerable distance by ground nesting yellow jackets and leaving the lawn mower there running.

The first thing I did immediately after getting back to the house was take a couple eye dropperfuls of echinacea extract internally. Then I showered and decided more decisive therapeutic action might be required.

I remembered hearing that sometimes being stung over and over can cause  more severe reactions each time and with the recent history of a similar incident a couple weeks before I was somewhat nervous that something more serious might happen. So I gathered up my blender and a load of fresh plantain leaves and headed back to my neighbor’s house.

We mixed in a bit of water and liquified the plantain leaves, then he went over my back and arms and with bandaids secured the plantain poultices in place. I think he counted 10 bandaids after most of the stings were covered. One sting in the middle of my head and another on my eyebrow were deliberately left without bandaids.I noticed on the way back home that the lawn mower had finally run out of gas, but no way I was going after it yet.

I did stop and look a bit to try and see where the swarm seemed to be, but left my hat on the ground where it fell off when I was running, about 15 feet away from the nest. That was still closer than I wanted to get. They get a visit tonight after dark and I’ll get the mower and if possible pour a couple gallons of urine on the nest. I may  wait however for the next rain storm to make sure they are not flying.

Later I  noticed that where I was stung on my eyebrow was very sore, so I put some of the leftover poultice we prepared in my hand and held it on my eyebrow for 15-30 minutes and notice now as I write that most of the ache/pain has gone from it. There’s also a spot on top of my head that could probably do with a bit more poultice as well.

September 1, 2017

Well, all the owies have turned into itchies or gone away completely, and this morning I took my first hot shower since I shut down the rocket stove in the Spring.

The outside temps were cool this morning, and with most of the heat going into the water there should be no problem with overheating inside now. Plus I decided some hot water might relax some of the tension generated by all the recent work and stings my body has been through.

The rocket stove performed perfectly up to specs. It has been two years in this configuration, although each year I think I want to add some insulation to the heat riser, clean and do a visual inspection inside the barrel. For now it seems to be in good condition, and the only thing I might do is rebuild the fire box.

Repairs and maintenance are easy on the clay portions of the stove, and I keep a bucket of fresh sifted clay nearby just for the odd occasion when the mood strikes and I decide to smooth a surface or repair a crack. Right now there are some non critical cracks around the fire box because it originally was built with a glass front.

Even though the glass was from a fireplace enclosure, it was not up to the heat generated in the stove, and quickly shattered. I had replaced the glass with fire brick, and did a quick patch around the edges with clay, but those repairs are a bit under the weather now and showing signs of wear.

The fire box takes the most abuse of any part of the stove, and while not the hottest part of the stove, temps there can reach 700 degrees F.

The copper coil that heats the water really does need to be upgraded, but I will save that project for a more peaceful time when I can give it my full attention.

I am still toying with the idea of waiting for next year to rent the back hoe again.

If I do that it will mean some sort of intermediate work on the low gully dam to bring the whole length high enough to push excess water out the spillway. Seems like it may be time to do some observation and thinking about possibilities.

No time like the present!