Tag Archives: drought

When Water Flows Uphill

June brought an historic flood to our city. December was the driest on record.

Climate scientists have warned us to prepare for these types of extremes. They have certainly arrived around the world, and according to predictions will only increase in frequency and severity. No matter what happens post-Paris in terms of carbon emissions, the planet is already locked into decades of volatile weather.

What is your community doing about it? What are you doing about it?

On our farm we have designed to address both drought and flood simultaneously. Here is one small example of how I am directing water to flow ‘uphill’ and over a swale to where it will be most useful to the black boy peach trees and blueberry bushes planted along the swale. The higher and longer we can hold water on the property the better. But at the same time we direct water away from buildings made of wood and steel.

This little water diversion project starts on the huge roof of our multi-shed complex. I’ve changed the spouting and run it into a section of Novaflo. In winter the same piece of Novaflo carries the water away from and to the side of the buildings. But for the dry summer I have decided to run the water uphill.

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The weight of the water is so great that I’ve had to build a ‘splint’ to support the flexible pipe from the fence to the barrel.

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Can never have too much baling twine!

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As the barrel fills, the pressure forces water through the hose fitted to the bottom of the side. The hose will eventually be covered by stone as it crosses the road.

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Then it climbs over the swale to the small pond dug behind it.

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I checked it this morning after a small 5 mm shower last night. The bottom of the pond was very damp and the end of the hose was full of water.

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Here is a reverse angle showing the water’s pathway up and over the swale. In winter the swale keeps water flowing down the hillside away from the buildings. But by the end of this dry December the ponds were dry and the small fruit trees were drying out. I was spending a lot of time watering them with a hose and decided that this project was to jump to the head of the line.

This hugelkultur swale was built one year ago and is already thriving compared with the worn out paddock around it.

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My belief is that it’s fine and good and important to talk about cutting emissions and embracing non-carbon based energy sources. But it is equally important to prepare ourselves and our communities for the extremes of both wet and dry. Good design moderates them both for the better. To me it’s all about designing and building resilient systems. This is just one small example on one small farm in the corner of the world. It was made in a morning by materials laying around the place at no cost.

What do you think you can achieve at your place?


Peace, Estwing

Drought-Proofing is a Matter of Eco-Design

Editor’s Note: One of our District Councillors recently made statements to our newspaper about his concern for the volume of water our city was using while we have had essentially no rain for a month. By why did he have to say to the reporter, “I don’t want to sound like a greenie…” This is my response in the same newspaper.


“I don’t want to sound like a greenie…”

Why is it that many people in our community – especially elected officials – feel it is necessary to preface common sense statements with this phrase? Is there such antipathy toward the so-called “greenies” among us to warrant this fear of association with them? It is such a constant theme in our local politics that I often wonder how and why it came to be.

Lets take a common sense, conservative concept: wasting a resource is bad. Does anyone disagree with this left, right or centre? But as long as we associate common sense, conservative issues with the left-wing, the farther Whanganui will fall behind progressive councils around the country that are ahead of us already and stretching their leads. If we were truly a “Smart!” city we would embrace eco-design thinking fully and unapologetically to improve the lives of our residents, save money and conserve valuable resources such as water.

Water conservation in the home comes in two forms: efficiency and behaviours. Efficiency can take the form of low-flow showers and taps, dual flush toilets, and appliances that are Water Rated. Behaviours include closing the tap while brushing teeth or shaving, taking short showers, or washing dishes like an Aussie.

But at this time of year, in many cases more water is used outside of the home than inside. I don’t want to sound like a greenie, but there are many ways in which eco-design can be used to develop and manage a drought-resistant property of any size from residential section to lifestyle block. Screen shot 2015-01-31 at 6.43.41 AM

A drought-resistant section in the middle of a drought.

Eco-design as applied to lawns and gardens is about mimicking nature. In other words, we observe how nature is so successful at providing the conditions for life to thrive, and then we copy it.

Any good farmer will tell you that growing plants is all about the soil, so that’s where we’ll begin. Undisturbed, natural soils consist of 50% particles (sand, silt, clay, and humus), 25% air, and 25% water. Put another way, it is half particles and half empty space.

By contrast, most paddocks, lawns and gardens are more like 80% particles and 20% pore space because they have been compacted over many years. Compacted soils do not readily absorb water during rains and result in excessive runoff into streams and rivers, which adds to flooding danger. On the other hand, because the water has flowed across the earth’s surface instead of soaking in, there is less groundwater available during drier months. Groundwater works like a bank account with deposits and withdrawals.

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A swale can help drought-proof a lifestyle block. 

Additionally, compacted soils are largely devoid of life due to the lack of air and water. Where soil life is marginal, many types of plants struggle to survive and require additional inputs of fertilizer, “weed killer”, and irrigation.

From an eco-design perspective, drought-proofing a paddock, lawn or garden is about bringing the soil back to life. Living soils have both good drainage and good water retention. In the long term, healthy soils maintain themselves. Yes, nature will do it on its own but we can jump start the process by breathing life into soils in three simple ways.

First, compacted soils need to be mechanically aerated. A farmer might use a chisel plough where a homeowner would choose a broad fork or sturdy garden fork. Next, the application of lime – one handful per square metre – will raise the pH of soils, which increases microbial activity. Finally, top-dressing with organic matter in the form of composted manure for a paddock or finely sieved compost for a lawn will feed soil organisms.

The same three principles – aerate, raise the pH, add organic matter – can be repeated for vege gardens and perennial beds. Additionally, with regards to water conservation, these can be heavily mulched to reduce soil evaporation.

Both vege gardens and perennial beds can easily be managed as no-dig/no-till areas with healthy soils that maintain themselves, but lawns and paddocks will inevitably receive a certain level of foot and hoof traffic. For these areas a more regular programme of maintenance is required to promote healthy soils, but it all can be done within the realm of eco-design.



Drought-Proof Your Residential Section

Wednesday, 4th February, 5:30-6:30 pm.

Drought-Proof Your Lifestyle Block

Sunday, 8th February, 9:00-11:00 am.

Limited spaces. Registration and deposit essential.

theecoschool – at – gmail.com