Taming the Rain

Rain compacts bare soil, and in this case making clay soil slick.  No percolation is happening here!

Rain compacts bare soil, and in this case making clay soil slick. No percolation is happening here!

World-wide we have a fresh water shortage, and the seas are rising.  Erosion is cutting into our fields and washing our precious topsoil into waterways, causing them to silt up and die.  In some areas of the US, unprecedented flooding from rain is occurring, while out West drought is drying up wells.  The reasons for these happenings have to do with our farming techniques to begin with.  How to fix the problems all  boils down to some very simple methods that everyone can do – that everyone needs to do.  It all comes down to making level-bottomed swales, and rain-catchment basins, to make the water penetrate the soil rather than roll over it.  Rain compacts soil more than a tractor does – when it falls on bare ground.  We have been trained to rake up leaves and burn them or send them to the dump.  Leaves, dead vines and other organic matter cushions the rain and keeps the soil from being compacted.  That organic matter also feeds the soil microorganisms that make soil hold manage rainwater.  With the lack of organic matter, and the use of herbicides to kill off all vegetation, and the proliferation of huge swaths of lawn that is treated routinely with chemicals and therefore make the ground hard, rain rolls across the landscape taking topsoil with it.

Raised mounds on the downside of swales keep rainwater by plant roots.

Raised mounds on the downside of swales keep rainwater by plant roots.

Many neighborhoods have large culverts through their properties – mine included – where runoff from properties above is purposely channeled through and away from homes.  All that precious water is wasted.  The same happens in areas where rain is abundant.  Rainwater is directed away from properties and into storm drains that fill and overflow, or it puddles in low spots because it has nowhere to go.

A rainwater and silt basin at the end of a series of rain catchment basins, has turned into a permanent pond.

A rainwater and silt basin at the end of a series of rain catchment basins, has turned into a permanent pond.

By creating regular level-bottomed swales perpendicular to the flow of water, beginning as high up the landscape as possible, rain will be caught before its momentum running downhill becomes destructive.  The water in the swales percolate into the landscape, reestablishing water tables and re-energizing wells and streambeds. Swales should be level at the bottom, dug on contour if large, and have a dedicated overflow into another swale, rain catchment basin or dam.  Small property?  Dig a small fishscale-shaped swale with a trowel above each of your small trees and plants, perpendicular to the flow of water.  Filling these small swales with coarse mulch such as woodchips will keep them moist and weed-free.

With 97% of California wetlands gone, animals have no place to drink.  Help them!

With 97% of California wetlands gone, animals have no place to drink. Help them!

If your property is the recipient of water from uphill, then talk to all your neighbors above you and convince them to dig swales as well (neighborhood swale-digging party??).  The amount of water raging down the hill will become insignificant, and everyone’s trees and plants will flourish due to the water being caught in the soil.  The plume of water slowly moving through the landscape encourages tree and plant roots to grow deeper.  The roots break through hardpan, produce sugars and proteins and carbohydrates to attract microbes, and create good soil for you.

A hugelkultur bed is made from layering wood with dirt and organic materials.  It will absorb rainwater and release it slowly as the ground around it dries, while improving the soil.

A hugelkultur bed is made from layering wood with dirt and organic materials. It will absorb rainwater and release it slowly as the ground around it dries, while improving the soil.

So dig swales and rain catchment basins to passify and hold rainwater.  Leave your leaves to prevent compaction and to feed your soil microbes.  Enjoy having healthier plants, soil and waterways while helping to put the brakes on global warming.

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