Tag Archives: climate change

Designing for Climate Change III

In the previous two posts I wrote about the work we’ve put into restoring our riparian corridor and into stabilising our slopes. This final post is about work we’ve carried out on the plateau at the height of land to drought-proof and flood-proof our property simultaneously.

It’ll be impossible to explain everything we’re doing and why in a series of blog posts, but hopefully readers will get an idea of the intention behind our work: primarily slowing the flow of water during peak periods, storing water safely for later use; redirecting water away from vulnerable areas; planting trees that will hold the soil; planting drought-tolerant stock fodder; decompressing soils to improve their function; designing in seasonal change to our systems.

One way we slow flowing water high on our property is with a series of swales and a small pond. Most of the swales are in and around our market gardens.

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The image below is when we just started putting in beds from the top after building the swale at the bottom.

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This photo was taken a long time ago but shows the water very clearly in the mid-slope swale.

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This larger swale is at the bottom of the market gardens and is large enough to store significant amounts of water. In winter we have the option of using a submersible pump to direct water in a variety of directions depending on the forthcoming weather and other factors we may consider.

Again, this is a very old photo taken while we were digging the series of three basins connected by ditches on contour behind the earthen berm.

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Like all of the swales, we also dug the pond by hand with our interns.

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It currently holds 25,000 litres but each summer we dig it a little deeper. We’ve planted willow rods around it for goat fodder as needed.

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The clay soil that we dug out was shifted by wheelbarrow to stabilise a bank under some pines that were cut years ago. This is directly above a track which is vital to farm management. We buried the drain pipe and backfilled up to the base of the pine stumps.

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A lot of this work was prompted by the 2015 Whanganui flooding (shown above), which left us with slips including one above this track and directly underneath our home.

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We always try to direct water away from buildings. I wrote about this French drain recently.

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This former stable is at the height of land. When we arrived there was no guttering or spouting on the building and all the water was directed against the east side.

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I put up the gutters about three years ago and now we have three options for directing the water: in winter we can run it straight into the huge storm drain along the road…

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…in spring we can direct it into 15,000 litres worth of tanks inside the stable; and in summer we can pipe it out into the “mud pit” along the ridge but a good distance from the stables. This trickle feeds the paddock and orchard from the top in both directions.

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As an old horse property, the soils were compressed and sour when we arrived. We’ve spent a lot of time improving soil function, including liming and putting in the no till garden beds one by one.

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We’ve nearly reached the 2,000 milestone for native trees, shrubs and grasses, so I’ve turned my attention to planting more tagasaste about the place for superior drought tolerant stock fodder and shelter.

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All of these strategies work in conjunction in four dimensions. In total, it’s a great example of designing from patterns to detail, and is the primary lesson of our PDC Internship programme. Our interns may not go on to manage farms, but everyone of them will go on to live in a world of increasing extreme weather events.

Peace, Estwing

Designing for Climate Change II

In the first post I wrote about stabilising the stream banks and feeding out pollarded willows to the goats. I also mentioned the casuarina and cabbage trees planted in the riparian corridor. Here is an image of them.

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Much of this work designing for climate change came after the 2015 Whanganui floods. Here is a picture of the neighbours place the day after.

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This is the neighbour on the other side. Lots of dead sheep.

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But truth be told we had started our work before the June flood. As a matter of fact, just two days before the storm hit the Whanganui region I was finishing up a French drain around our home with the help of my daughter.

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Because it was mid-June we were also preparing our garlic for planting later that night.

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At least someone enjoyed the weather.

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Our calf, Heidi, weathered the storm down in the valley. Note the culvert that I am clearing in the image below and keep it in mind when viewing the image that follows.

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The willow in the foreground gives you the relative location of the culvert, which you can’t even see due to the extensive plantings along the stream following fencing off the riparian corridor.

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But this post should really be about the hillsides, where slips occur, and how to reduce the risks of future slipping. We have planted over 100 3-metre poplar poles that come from the regional government. They should be soaked for a week before planting 700 mm deep in mid-winter.

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We locate them mostly in the valleys where water is concentrated during storms.

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After three winters of planting, we are now up to the upper slopes. On the side of the farm with the goats we use tree guards and on the side with the kune kune pigs we do not use them.

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But I am told that it takes seven years for the roots of poplars to grow broad enough to hold the hillsides against slips, which raises the question: what to do during the intermediate years to prevent slips from taking out the poplars? Our answer has been targeted drainage.

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There are certain areas where we can capture concentrated surface runoff on the hillsides and leapfrog it over the most vulnerable slopes. This is not ideal, but may be a reality in a world of increasing extreme weather events.

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In summer we take the pipes down and store them under trees out of direct sunlight. This preserves the plastic pipes and retains water high on the landscape during the dry season. It is an expensive measure but part of what I call Triage Permaculture. Seasonally installing and dis-installing the pipes is part of what I call four-dimensional design management.

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Sadly, we’ve also had a neighbour dumping water onto our land illegally, which has caused an additional slip.

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Because they will not take responsibility for their own water as prescribed under The Building Act, I have had to put in a drain and a sump (made from a flower pot) and more plastic pipe to redirect the water away from the vulnerable area.

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We’ve also put in a surface drain to draw stormwater away from the top of the slip, which is dangerously close to a fence and a major farm track.

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This has all been a massive effort requiring tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours labour. But at the end of the day, if I want my children to inherit a resilient farm there really is no other option.

 

Peace, Estwing

Designing for Climate Change

Above all else, we design our farm for climate change. Primarily this means drought-proofing and flood-proofing simultaneously. While we employ many strategies along these lines, here is one that is very straight-forward.

In June, 2015 Whanganui experienced an extreme rain event that caused slips and erosion on our farm. In one area approximately 30 cubic metres of stream bank disappeared overnight.

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When we went to inspect it the next day we were awed by the destructive power of the water.

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The flood was so powerful is sheered fencing wire through pure tension.

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From that day – just 10 months into our ownership of the farm – our thinking about how to manage the 13 acre property took a drastic change. We fenced over 400 metres of stream, planted over 2,000 trees, and put in another 500 metres of fencing to exclude stock from sensitive areas.

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Along the stream we planted a host of native species including grasses and cabbage trees known for their fibrous root systems that hold soil in place. We also planted over 100 Australian casuarina, also known as sheoak and river oak.

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As an emergency measure we drove willow poles into the stream bank in the worst effected areas. We intended to use the willow and sheoak as stock fodder – easily pollarding it and dropping branches over the fence for eager goats.

Over the last two years the willows have grown up to the point where this week we were able to cut branches for the goats for the first time. Although we’re not in a drought at the moment this is the type of emergency stock feeding we’ve designed for in case of long periods with no rain.

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Willow is healthy stock fodder. Here is great link to a resource explaining all about it: https://beeflambnz.com/knowledge-hub/PDF/poplars-and-willows-fodder

At the end of the day, by fencing the stream and planting its riparian corridor with the proper species we are able to flood-proof and drought-proof this section of our farm simultaneously. In a future of increased extreme weather events it seems like the only viable option.

 

Peace, Estwing

Boredom Punctuated by Terror

It does not matter what the weather is like 99.9 percent of the time. The other bit can destroy roads, homes, lives and cities. Extreme weather events have been on the rise for over three decades and seem to be picking up in force and frequency in the last five years. The news provides a steady stream of such catastrophes. Climate scientists often call this, “an increased incidence of extreme weather events.”

Two months ago we had a strong wind event that brought down lots of branches on our farm.

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It only takes a few hours of high winds to do the damage.

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In April we had two rain events that caused a large slip – mostly due to a neighbour illegally dumping water onto our land.

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A major challenge for permaculturists is to design for extreme weather events. It will be the greatest challenge of our time. We are developing a resilient farm that can best resist both droughts and floods by turning liabilities into assets and buffering shocks.

Our garlic is high and dry – by design. All of our growing beds are raised rows perpendicular to slope with drainage on the ends.

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Meanwhile, this is how the Whanganui District Council responds – bulldozing wind- and wave-driven sand back into the Tasman Sea. Fighting climate change with diesel fuel! Good luck with that.

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Peace, Estwing

Triage Permaculture: Healing the Land

Sustainability is not enough. We need regenerative approaches to taking on the challenges facing humanity and all life on earth. As with all of the permaculture principles, regenerative design thinking can be applied to every aspect of modern human existence. Bringing land back to health is just one example.

On Kaitiaki Farm we have been bringing a worn-out horse property back to health for the last three years. For the most part the results have been incredible so far. This area was mostly bare soil with a light covering of thistles three years ago. Now it has a complete blanket of grass and not a thistle in sight.

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On the slope just below it we’ve planted manuka and poplars.

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Below that we planted tagasaste.

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And further down there are now olives and then avocados.

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And finally – at the bottom of the valley – we’ve fenced the stream and planted 1,500 native trees, shrubs and grasses.

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Elsewhere on the farm we’re also seeing great recovery. The slope below suffered a major slip during the floods of 2015. We have worked hard to protect and restore the hillside since then.

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All of this planting means lots of propagation. Here are 4 trays of tagasaste grown from seed.

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Additionally we buy in and have donated hundreds of native plants.

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On this farm we’re taking the long view. Investing in erosion control, soil health, and water management now will pay dividends in the future. I call this “triage permaculture.” Vegetable gardens can come later.

 

Peace, Estwing

Before the Flood

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece for the Wanganui Chronicle.

Before the Flood is a double album featuring Bob Dylan and the Band recorded live in1974. Joining Dylan on stage during the American tour were Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm and Richard Manuel. From New York to Los Angeles, the superstar line up rocked the States, and the album was eventually certified platinum.

Before the Flood is also a documentary film about climate change featuring Leonardo DiCaprio that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. The film opens in theaters the 21st of October and will be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel worldwide on the 31st of October.

With over a decade of experience on the front lines of the issue, Dicaprio has established himself as a global leader on climate change. He stays up to date on the issue, which is critical because scientists’ understanding of climate change changes constantly. One recent revelation in the United States is that flood maps used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are no longer valid. In other words, major flooding is occurring in places it never occurred before and impacting on tens of thousands of homeowners without flood insurance.

Families and entire communities are being devastated by extreme weather events that come with larger and larger repair bills. Our region has experienced this and will continue to experience it going forward: higher repair bills leading to higher rates.

Horizons Regional Council reported that the 2015 floods caused $120 million in damage not including costs to the rural sector. There were over 2,000 slips on roads, which included 25 road closures. The next major rain event will cost more. In fact, the next flood in Whanganui will cost ratepayers far more than the wastewater treatment plant. The next mega-storm is already baked into the cake due to the persistence of carbon in the atmosphere.

The question for our community is: what will we do before the flood?

The answer, my friends is Blowin’ in the Wind, because All along the Watchtower you can see the waters risings Up on Cripple Creek after the Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. Like a Rolling Stone, The Weight of a huge slip closed Highway 61 Revisited. Don’t think twice, it’s (not) all right.

But seriously, the first thing we need to do is change our perspective. So far climate change has been framed as an environmental issue with ranting, finger pointing, denial, protests, and token gestures – all with little effect.

Taking a rigorous and holistic look at the impacts of climate change on our district makes it clear that for the next half century it will manifest as an economic and social issue. On the one hand drought and flood will disrupt economic activity, cost farmers dearly in production losses and repair bills, and make transport difficult or impossible in some areas. On the other hand, enormous repair bills will add to the rates burden and suppress local economic activity. Ratepayers with fewer dollars in their bank accounts will spend less in local shops and local business owners will lose profitability. Middle and lower income families will feel the burden most acutely.

If we’re able to shift our perspective on the issue, the next thing to do is take action. In theory this means holding water on the land during major rain events to take the peak off floods. In practice this means restoring wetlands, fencing and planting streams, and planting trees on hillsides. Ordinary citizens need to support the efforts in these areas being made by our councils.

If we are to seriously address climate change in our community we need approaches that are robust, holistic and inclusive. Gone are the days of talking and finger pointing. These are days for action.

Dr. Nelson Lebo has been studying climate change for 30 years.

Join the Front Lines of Climate Change Action

An increasing incidence of extreme weather events.

That is the climate scientist way of saying, “More superstorms, more record floods, more record droughts.” Worldwide the repair costs will run into the trillions. Building more stop banks, levies, dykes and other flood protection will be expensive and ultimately ineffective.

Research shows the best way to mitigate severe flooding is to hold back water from large rivers during major rainfall events. This is done by taking a holistic approach to watershed (catchment) management, which includes these specific actions: replanting trees on steep overgrazed hillsides; restoring degraded wetlands; and, protecting riparian (stream-side) corridors. Other benefits of these actions include improved water quality and increased biological diversity.

A history of less-than-ideal farming and land management practices makes the Whanganui District and Whanganui city particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as last year’s flood, which caused thousands of slips district wide, severe erosion and record flooding. We will see more of the same and even worse in the decades to come, and the repair bills will cost rate payers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ultimately it would be cheaper to take the steps described above than to do nothing and accept the devastation and massive costs of clean up and repair. It is a case of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Last year our tiny stream burst its banks and carried cubic meters of soil off into the Whanganui River and on to the Tasman Sea.

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This historic wetland was nothing but a drainage channel during the floods.

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So we have decided to take direct action to address the effects of climate change in our community. We have initiated the Purua Stream Restoration Project to serve as a model of private-public-community partnership. The vision of the Project is to protect the entire stream by working with landowners, community members and Horizons Regional Council to fence it off and plant tens of thousands of native trees, grasses and wetland plants.

We have started the process on our property.

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Stage One at Kaitiaki Farm has involved fencing off an acre of land and planting 800 – 1,000 natives. The entire bend in the stream in the photo below has been protected.

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After spending six weekends to build a stock proof fence, two working bees have involved the Whanganui community, planting the stream sides…

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…and the higher banks.

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Horizons Regional Council has excellent programmes that help defer the costs of fencing and provide plants grown at the Kaitoke Prison nursery.

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Additionally, we have had over 800 more plants donated so far.

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Stage One is nearly complete and we’re keen to proceed with Stage Two, which will involve fencing off another 1 and 1/2 acres and planting 1,000 native plants.

Stage Three will involve working with landowners up and down the stream.

Stage Four will involve replicating this model of private-public-community partnership throughout the entire Whanganui catchment.

If you are concerned about the direct effects of climate change on our community and want to get involved, grab a spade, dig a post hole, plant a tree. We can make a difference here and now, and for the future.

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Get involved today. Email: crew.whanganui at gmail dot com

Peace, Estwing