The Movement of Water

Directing the movement of water across land is a tough permaculture design concept to grok for this novice. There are always pages of diagrams in permaculture design books showing swales, dams, terracing, and ponds, but those diagrams are for large farms not suburban or urban yards. I don’t have any technical training for taking measurements and I still can’t figure out how to measure a slope.

But none of that really matters. Permaculture as a philosophy doesn’t care if you’re trained or not. Permaculture as a philosophy says “you can figure this out just by really seeing“. Observing your environment closely and using that to guide the design is one of the aspects of permaculture as a philosophy that draws me the most strongly.

In heavy rains, my front walk becomes an arroyo.

I try to walk all the way around the yard every day, pulling weeds here and there, checking under trees, looking at the bugs and flowers and lizards and life. During and after the last hurricane I walked around in the yard a lot. I was trying to only be a passive observer at that point, trying to see the land for what it was, the details and the big picture. I didn’t look at the movement of water specifically but it was there in the background. What I didn’t grok at that point was that every change I made to the landscape over the next 2 months would alter the very thing I was trying to observe. Removing the large boxwood bushes from the front of the house, adding the 3′ strip of 8″ deep sheet mulch across the front, and piling up the mulch at the front corner of the yard & driveway has significantly altered the flow of water across the yard, unfortunately not in a good way.

Now the water that falls on the driveway sweeps down the front path and, blocked off by the mulch piled up against the edge of the driveway, pours into the low spot left by removing the big boxwood bush to the right of the porch. On the other side, the only downspout to the gutter pours water into the other low spot from the removal of the left boxwood bush. Water here is feast or famine- half the year is very dry and half is very wet. The key to water management on a home scale is capturing as much water as possible during the rainy season to soften the impact of the dry season. We don’t have rain barrels (yet!) so my goal is to capture as much in the ground as possible without creating areas of standing water. Standing water = mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are bad.

My first clumsy attempt at a diagram. Probably not my last.

I’m not sure how to redirect this water yet. The water flowing down the driveway needs to be directed away from the front walk. I’m sure a swale would be appropriate here, but where? The flow of water from the gutter downspout needs to be redirected and softened, somehow, so it doesn’t dig holes in the ground and sweep away mulch or plants.  French drains are tempting, but they just drain the water into the ground. I want to capture it where the plants can use it. Fortunately there are landscapers coming Friday, I’ll ask them for a professional opinion and go from there.

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