A swale to move water from A to B?

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by Dobly, Mar 18, 2009.

  1. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    I have just finished reading Bill M's epic Designers Manual. My head is spinning with ideas for my block of land that we are planning to build on in the near future.

    Today I visited the block for the first time since finishing the book and I was amazed as just how much potential I could now see on the block that was just not there before.

    One of the things I spotted was this. We have a side of our block where the water comes around a cul de sac and right down our block about 50 meters. This was causing an enormous amount of erosion damage to our land. So much so I insisted that the council come and 'fix' the problem. After all, it was thier cul de sac.

    Their engineered fix was to bring in tons of rocks and some geo tech fabric and slow the water up as it roars quickly down our block and too the valley below. Here is a photo of the work they did.

    [​IMG]

    Now here is a shot of the top of this system where they have dug a big hole to slow the water up and have it over flow down this rock construct just to the right of the shot.

    [​IMG]

    Here is a shot to show you just how steep it is. The rock work is just out of sight in this shot up the back, but it give you an idea of the slope and shows you the poor ground I am starting with.

    [​IMG]

    Now finally, here is my idea.

    In the true essence of Permaculture my idea is to divert the water that is the overflow from the pool at the top of this system across the back of a swale pretty much across that shot above from back to front. So that the water runs at a slow rate across the swale like 1:5000 or so, to the other side of the block were I hope to build a dam.

    This next shot shows you the pool at the top in wetter times taken from the other side. Here you can see the rock system running off to the left and also at the left of this shot the hill I want to move the water across.

    [​IMG]

    From what I read, the idea of a swale is to have water stopped by it. Not run off accross the back of it. Right? So am I on the right track here. Should I look for another way to move all this overflow water from this side of the block to the other?

    Also, as storm water pours into this pool at the top of the system, I thought it would be great to make this a more permanent pool, but lining it with GLEY or some plastic, gravel and sand and stacks of water plants in and plants around the pool. Is this feasible in a pool that has water gushing through it in a big storm?

    And my final question, how do I make a swale when my land it made up of rocks and very sandy soil? should I bring material in to build the swale?

    I look forward to some ideas on what I can do here. Seems such a waste to have all that water just run right off the property.
     
  2. Flying Binghi

    Flying Binghi Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Dobly, how long have you had your block ?
     
  3. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    g'day dobly,

    how i understand it when you direct the flow of water that is a channel/canal a swale usually runs along the contours and captures run off and aides in getting it into the sub soil.

    there is some very top soil denuded rocky ground there, i initially would be thinking to use rips for swales, then as you can afford it get bales of spoilt hay, sugar cane mulch whatever (could also just lay deep rows of mulch grass whatever, maybe you have the wherewithall to go rake slashed grass from someones paddock?) and lay that along the bottom sides of the rips, then as that breaks down plant it with native grasses then continue the process between the rows, this will help build up some top soil so later when you slash the grass you can leave it lay to rot down and continue the process.

    len
     
  4. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    We got the block almost 2 years ago. At the time I was living in the burbs in Sydney, living the rat race with peak hour trains to and from the city. Was time from a tree change.

    I knew nothing about Permaculture, earthworks, swales and the like when we came to look at this block. It was just a nice block with a smooth dirt hillside and a great view. Then the rains came.

    First all the top soil was washed away, then a huge gash that you could put a car in was carved out of the side of the hill from water coming around the cul de sac and onto out block.

    Now that they have 'fixed' the immediate problem and now that I have been enlightened by Bill's book I am seeing all that water as a valuable resource. I need to keeping as much of it as possible on and in our block.

    I also feel a sense of responsibility to make this hillside healthy and fertile again. Whoever cleared this block gave no thought to what would happen once they took the forest off it. Typical. I want to fix it.
     
  5. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    I thought a few more images might help with this..

    This first image shows how the water gets on to our block now.

    It was taken when the erosion on the southern side was apparent.
    The red line is the water flow and the blue line is the natural creek that forms every time it rains. It runs south.

    [​IMG]

    This next shot shows my first draft plan for what I want to do on the block. Note that the grey contour lines are only approximate ( and hard to see). These however with the images above will give you a good idea of what I am getting at.

    My plan is to make that pool at the top of the erosion more permanent. Line it so it holds water and plant it up.

    Then move excess water NW across the block.

    Next I want to put another pool/small dam at the northern end to capture and slow up the water that comes in the top of the block.

    Finally I want the water from that dam and surrounding landscape to flow into a new large dam constructed in the dip where the creek flows. Over flow from this dam would continue south and off the block.

    A picture speaks a thousand words.

    [​IMG]

    Here the pools and dams are green. The water flow blue.

    There is probably enough height on the southern water to move it to the new big dam after I have taken some of the water to run across the back of a swale or a rip as gardenlen suggested.

    Sorry I have taken this thread to the grand plan level, but I thought the problem would be better views in the context of what I am trying to do.
     
  6. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    This sounds like good plan. I do need to get massive amounts or organic material in there..

    Thinking about it, it would be foolish to run water across the new swale or rip, until it is heavily vegetated. Do you agree? Else I could be starting just another erosion problem.

    I could therefore do this in a two stage process..

    Stage one would be to get the swale or rip done but do not open it to the water that collects at the top. For now anyway.

    First I need to get tons of organic matter in there. And get it wet via rain or manually watering it. Then when the time is right, chuck in all kinds of good legume type seeds and get them growing. Stuff I can chop and drop and keeps growing to be chopped and dropped again.

    Then once it is fertile, stable, and has every inch of it growing with something, open the water way at the top and have the slope across very very shallow so that the water has time to soak in. The excess making across the other side.

    To start with I have much too much Whisky grass all over the block.

    [​IMG]

    I had planned to chop the tops (seeds) off, bag them, then pull the remaining grass out by hand roots and all and compost them. Now I can see a new use for the bottom half of the plant. Rotting on the new swale! (along with the suger cane and straw mulch suggested above)

    This seem like a plan? I do love the idea of using the resources I have and turning the problems into solutions. Wow, just listen to me. Sounding more like a permaculturist by the day. :)
     
  7. Tim Auld

    Tim Auld Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Congrats on finishing the designers manual, it's quite a tome! I tend to experiment and make mistakes before reading everything I should. Not to say you can't make mistakes after reading everything ;)

    I don't think this is the case. A swale on contour will still transport water, just at a slow pace, so you don't have to give it any slope (which would make a diversion swale). If it does cause any erosion that's a perfect use for the surplus of stones you have. Putting gravel and stones in the bottom of the swales helps infiltration and reduces evaporation. This is called riprap. Keep the swale mound relatively free of stones so you can easily plant it out with all manner of useful plants and start forming soil which may or may not end up in the trough.

    Cheers,
    Tim
     
  8. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    I live up in Grafton and had a 10 hour bus trip to Sydney last week, a whole day to kill hanging out before a wedding and a 10 hour train trip home.. That got me from the start of chapter 4 to the end and back over several chapters. The chapter on Patterns did my head in. :? .

    Reading it is one thing but it's not a case of remembering every fact and figure.. What it gave me is an understanding of what is involved, and where to find it in the book. Time to put it all to practice. Before that tome I had read Linda's excellent Peramculture Home Garden.

    Of course it will. What was I thinking. As long the far end is lower than swale. Lower to allow the excess water to get out but high enough to keep 'enough' of the water behind the swale. You can have too much water behind a swale, can't you? Or should I make the swale a closed system that fills with water?

    The amount of water that comes in from that southern area is best described as copious. It's not a trickle but a thick gushing that would almost knock you off your feet. I'm not surprised is caused such havoc to the hill side. I could never unleash all of if over a new swale.

    And that be my dilemma.. The earth on my block is best described as sandy and rocky. At least I'll have good drainage. :) I could not make a swale with the materials I have there. Else it would be full of rocks.

    Any swale I create would have to be made up from scratch, or bring in tons of organic matter and soil. That could be expensive. To buy 50 meters of swale of any reasonable size.

    How to get it started is the question.
     
  9. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Sounds like my book reading journey into permaculture! Have also just finished the Design manual having read the Linda Woodrow book. I too am a compulsive planner before I start any project... :oops:

    My block is suburban and no where near as challenging as yours. I'm blessed with great soil! I'm in the middle of the landscaping works at present - the landscaper has his PDC, so I figure I'm in safe hands. The first thing he did before running the bob cat over all my weeds and starting the excavation for retaining walls, was to build a swale at the lower end of my block. And then the rain started.

    And is still going 2 weeks later. But at least my topsoil is going no further than my lovely swale - rather than into the neighbours nasty cut and fill backyard.

    I'm no permaculture guru - but my reading of the manual and your problem makes me want to suggest that you get earth moving equipment on site and build a number of parallel swales along the contour lines. Just dig a trench and dump the contents on the low side. Plant on the top of the raised lower side to stabilize it. And fill the trench with mulch. If the water spills over the top of the first swale in a good down pour it'll head for the second and so on down the hill, losing velocity and dropping the stones and soil back down as it goes. And the water that then sits in the swale will slowly drop down into your soil.

    I'd love to hear from one of the genuine gurus if I've got the right idea.... :?:
     
  10. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    yes if not carefull it would be easy to make the problem worse. it is always difficult to say with certainty what may or may not work when chatting over the 'net, for me i find seeing the site would make for better dialogue. you may have to do something initially to take control of the water that runs in from the cul-de-sac. this might also mean the use of the classic swale but be sure that is is level all the way time consuming and pricey, if not and water gathers in one section if could break out like a dam burst and also cause problems. also in that rocky ground would the berm hold water as it should or would seepage occur?

    once you have the rips you then have lines that you can plant trees or shrubs into, these can be permanent plants of use pioneers like acacias etc the faster growing tree/shrubs. once you have some control over the water flow then maybe some seed balls of diffrent grasses and plants thrown around might be the go?

    do it in mangeable stages.

    len
     
  11. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    I know this is no substitute for seeing the block, but I do have a small video on You Tube that shows the block from the northern end.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNK-yj2fNcY

    I'll endeavor to get up to the block this weekend and do a video specific to this problem. That'll be good for me in planning and good for all you kind folk offering advice.

    Also I want get some proper contour lines done . Time to make a bunyip level.

    They call it Sandstone country.. It does not hold water. That has it's pluses in some cases, like good drainage, but is no help at all for what I am trying to do here. Buy like Bill said, 3 inches of good soil holds 1 inch of water. Simple, I just need to create a few feet of great soil on my hillside. :?

    As for controlling the water. It is sort of controlled now. It thunders around the cul de sac, hits the pool at the top, then rolls over the edge smashing and being broken up by the rocks and boulders on the geo tech fabric. It is a huge waste of water.

    What I could do once I get the swale created is put a think hose in the pool at the top and syphon water to the back of the swale. That is, before I open the pool to the back of the swale. Would be a good way to control the amount of water on the swale for testing it.

    The pool at the top is getting some sediment in it. Organic stuff from far and wide. That will be one source of organic material for the swale. Not enough, but it will help. I'll get in and dig it out when the pool is drying up. The pool currently does not hold water, loosing it to the sandy soil so I don't need to wait long.

    Exactly.. But I just wanna be sure I do the right thing from the start..
     
  12. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Yes. Linda's book was lovely. I have read it 3 times now. She made it seem all so doable. That even a 'city dweller for most of his life' like me could grow my own food.

    Congratulations on your swale. Must be a joy to see it in action.


    I've been thinking about having more than one swale. Bill's book had suggested spacing for swale given the slope of the land. Now were was that in the book? Working now.. I'll find it later and post it back here.


    Me too. Mind you the help so far has been great. Plenty of food for thought.
     
  13. bazman

    bazman Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    You can help reduce this by getting your hands on clay, people with to much clay might like to do a swap with some of that wonderful looking stone? post a note at your local trade/stock store looking for clay or clay loam which people often want removed, this will help keep water on your place.

    I don't have a single stone on my 7.5 acres. I wish I had a few to play with.

    You can use stone cages to slow water, use chicken wire or something a little stronger. to make small dams or cage blocks to catch organic matter and slow water.
     
  14. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    basically at the end of the day it will all come down to simple processes using loads of common sense there's no rocket science needed. and with all things dealing with nature we realy can't have any guarantees, so if a process doesn't quiet work try another or try it in another way.

    the rips will allow debris matter to penetrate into the soil where it will do most good.

    it will happen is all i can say, just won't be overnight.

    not sure if this might help put a sign up so others will leave their green waste that you might then use in your process, you could lay rows of branches along the contours these will also act as swales once they trap some debris or you add some grass or hay mulch in as well. amybe investing in a good shredder so that you could shred what you can or hire a chipper when enough is collected? once you get some rows of mulch going then seed them with tufty native grasses ie.,. kangaroos or wallaby grass, needle grass what ever.

    len
     
  15. Max E

    Max E Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Congrats on beaing able to read through The Book, I had not hope. But I am at the moment half way through a PDC and I would advise that before you make any changes you invest in a PDC course. The money you spend on this course will be easily saved on the overall project you are looking to undetake.
    Do some research on the courses avail and who is running them and make the time and spend the money, It is some of the best money I have spent,

    Regards

    Max
     
  16. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Thanks. I can tell you though after the first 3 chapters I thought I had wasted my money. Not that book was bad. Just that is was such hard work taking in the concepts.

    That all changed but went I got to the more practical stuff like design, earthworks, soil and beyond. The trick I use was to imagine each idea that he described and how I could apply it to my land. Even if my land did not need whatever it was he was talking about, I tried to place it on my land somewhere so I could visualize how it might look.

    Even with that however, man oh man was it a tough read. I find now that I am picking it up just about every day, opening a random page and saying "I don't remember reading that". :?

    But it must be in my head, somewhere.

    There is too much in there to take in with 1 reading and no practical experience. Still, I kind of know now what is in there, and roughly where to find it in the book when I need it. So I suppose that is a start.

    I went back to the book and reread the section on swales. From what I can work out I need one, maybe 2 swales on my block. Then that water that collects at the top of that erosion area, I need a diversion bank. a "gently sloping drain used to lead water away from valleys and streams and into storage and irrigation systems, or into sand beds or swales for absorption" (p169 of THE book)

    I need to get the swale built and after some time, when I think it is ready, build a diversion bank from that pool at the top so some of the overflow goes gently of the swale.

    I would so love to do a PDC. But I am self employed. It's not like I get a few weeks annual leave. If I don't work, I don't get paid. Plus we are saving to build a house (and get all sorts of earthworks done). Oh, but I'd LOVE to do a PDC!
     
  17. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Today I went out to to the block with a new friend of mine who has much skill in water harvesting, dams, swales, diversion banks, the lot, having done all of that and more in his job at the council.

    He agreed that a swale could help take some of the water away from the erosion work. But there is a catch.. The ground on the hill side is not only rocky, it is down to the bedrock in places. Bare to the bone. Looking at the first image above the area to the right of the erosion rocks and such the council put in, is eroded right down to the rock.

    There is nothing in some places in which an excavator could dig the swale.

    So the question then, is how do you build a swale, across rock. Any thing I put there is going to be washed down the hill in the first solid rain. It would not matter how long it is there, how many or how big the plants are on it. It could be the most fertile and productive swale ever, but it is still just sitting on the rock.

    Is there any point even trying?
     
  18. Max E

    Max E Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    there will be something you can do it, but it will not be as simple as you had hoped,
    A contour survey of the property will enable any options to be considered and you will need to look at how much water you have to deal with in a big rain event and also look not only at what it is doing on your property but where it is coming in to your property and if there are other options for dealing with it there.
    regards

    Max
     
  19. openeyes

    openeyes Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    if the exposed bed rock area was quite small you could consider creating a concrete swale across that section to get the water to the other side. I am not sure about melding the soil swale to the concrete but it could create a bridge. Could also use a pipe like a culvert drain - just a thought.

    Also you mentioned that the flood water brings organic matter - that is great - and got me thinking that really your site should be regarded like a desert environment and so maybe a Gabion would be perfect for slowing the water, collecting silt and organic matter for your site check out this for an example https://permaculturetokyo.blogspot.com/2 ... mates.html

    Since the water is coming to you with stuff you want then harvesting that seems practical. Even a large tank and the top of the property would be better than nothing. If it's placement was to high you could use a ram pump for when the floods come and at least get a propportion of it up to the tank or a dam.

    Just some ideas
     
  20. Dobly

    Dobly Junior Member

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    Re: A swale to move water from A to B?

    Great ideas indeed.. That image of the wadi in that link you provided makes my erosion problem look like a small loss of soil in a few pot plants.

    A 'soon to be neighbor' who lives over the road from our block told me yesterday that in some big rain we had the other week, there was so much water that the side of the road was a torrent of water about 10 feet wide and a few feet deep in the middle, all running around the cul de sac and plowing down our block. No wonder it is down to the rock in places. That work that the council did was just swamped buy the water and only slowed some of the water as the rest just poured over all that rock.

    The organic mater is a minor consideration at the moment.

    I'm going back to the council in the next few days to ask them to re access this issue. This water is coming off their road, and is running over my land. The solution they have provided is just not cutting it.

    Having the swale will provide one place to move 'some' of the water. But by the sounds of it no swale would survive this tidal wave of water that comes in big rains.

    The water need needs options.. It needs to be split and directed in several directions and then spread out. One of those spits could go to be the back of the swale.

    Once I get some more photos I'll post them here.
     

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