SWALES built in the US in the 30's

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by nate_taylor, Jul 1, 2009.

  1. nate_taylor

    nate_taylor Junior Member

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    Here is a link to a satellite view of the swales visited by Bill Mollison in the Global Gardener series. They are 75+ years old and going strong. There are many more in the area but these seem to be the greenest.
    Does anybody know anything about who built them? I am assuming it was a WPA project but I can't find anything on google.


    https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source= ... 17&iwloc=A

    [​IMG]

    Nate
     
  2. kimbo.parker

    kimbo.parker Junior Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    hello,
    i'll have a shot at this:

    My subject: Permaculture Trivia ; Early Permaculture Videos by Mollison

    My question: Who built the swales (as described by Nate above) indicated by Mollison in the Global Gardener Series?

    tick tick tick tick bzzz,[your answer please]

    it was the thousands of un employed (great depression) under the guidance of US military engineers...in what what described as the only time the population had been set to work repairing the country, and the only time the US military engineers did something right.
    subsequent forays by the engineers into environmental building and repair have been disastrous.


    i hope someone can tell me if i'm right :wink:
    ps we could have a quiz night - or online equivelant? moderators?...along footy tipping lines?? with a prize??? :p
    regards, Kimbo
     
  3. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    Nate, there are swales still functioning today all over the Midwestern US that were put in place after the terrible droughts and windstorms of the 1930's blew away the topsoil. The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) was organized by President Roosevelt to build the swales to try to get the farmers back in business. I think we've taken them for granted for all these years, but now that the weather is changing a lot more interest will be generated.
     
  4. WelcomeTheRain

    WelcomeTheRain New Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    Having been to these swales a number of times to study them I think it can be argued that they have done more harm than good. The swales appear to have been placed randomly in a CCC act of making work. Yes they are huge and yes it is impressive to see the vegetation behind them, but upon closer inspection, one realizes that the over time they are actually creating more erosion. None of the swale have planned overflows and since they are collecting a wide area of water which used to move in a sheet flow fashion when they do overflow they are creating extreme channelized runoff. This runoff is actually leading to massive headcuts that threaten to undermine the entire swale system, which in turn will lead to a drier landscape than what existed before the swales were put in! Also upon closer inspection you will realize that down slope of the swales many of the trees have died due to their water being cut off. Like many things in permaculture, water harvesting is site specific and one technique is not suitable for all locations.
     
  5. nate_taylor

    nate_taylor Junior Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    Wow, that's disappointing. Mollison gives the "hydrologists" much praise in the video.

    Are these swales on contour? They don't seem to be.

    how would you have cut them differently, WelcomeTheRain?
     
  6. dymonite

    dymonite Junior Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    Click on 'Terrain' in Google maps and that gives you the contour markings of the site of interest.
     
  7. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    Could it also be the case that these swales are in a location where there are flash floods in which suddenly huge amounts of running water approach them, and the excess causes erosion? Maybe these aren't the best placed berms and swales, but they do show that vegetation is encouraged in that situation.

    Most of us don't deal with flash floods, and the normal amounts of rainfall would sink nicely in place behind a berm. Even in a bad year, on a hillside where my gopher holes can create fountains of water shooting out at the bottom of the hillside, a berm with a trench before it helps to stop erosion.
     
  8. G

    G New Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    The rural folks in NW Arkansas are primarily cattle and grass farmers. There are swales and the farmers I know hate them. They may be older than the 30's. I do not see water in what we have on our place even during the wet winters.
    They are shallow and may need restoration. I think key line plowing would be better for these farmers but they are set in their ways. They need a demonstration.
    -G
     
  9. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    Re: SWALES built in the US in the 30's

    G'day All

    A few months ago, whilst driving east along the Gwydir HWY (NSW, Australia), I was taken by the amount of swaling that was visibly taking place in the roadside paddocks. Some appeared to be very fresh, while others appeared to be much older. At the time I had my lap top with me, and when I later pulled up at Gravesend (for fuel and to checkout the old railway station retro-fitted into a radio station) I decided to jump onto Google Maps and have a look. What I saw astounded me. For hundreds of kilometres, farmers everywhere had been swaling. Some of the older ones have been furrowed and cropped over by later seasons of 'straight-line' plowing, but the old swales are still visible. The newer ones appear to be well maintained. For anyone who might be interested in having a look , start at Moree (NSW), where the Gwydir HWY meets the Newell HWY, and track your way east using Google maps with the scale bar set to 500m/1000ft.

    If anyone knows anything of the history of swaling in this area - when did it first start, how efficient is it, why have some stopped? - I'd be very interested to know, and I think we could all probably learn a great deal from this area of intense swaling. I note 'barely run' (Cathy) is from Glen Innes (NSW), perhaps she can shed some light on the subject?

    Google searches uncover many different applications for swales in this area - agricultural, urban, stormwater retention, flood mitigation, revegetation works - but the results of my searching thus far are thin when it comes to the efficacy of swales, and if we are going to promote swales as a positive practice when it comes to permaculture projects (particularly on the larger scale), we need to have evidence. Obviously I will keep up with the research from my end (early days yet), but would be very intrested to learn, maybe even first hand from someone who is actually swaling in this area.

    G'day G

    Welcome to the PRI Forum.

    Congratulations on uncovering the the old art (and science) of swaling in your district, hopefully you can convince the farmers as to the benefits of swales and Keyline plowing. Concerning Keyline, I presume you have read everything by its founder P.A. Yeomans? If not, his books should (hopefully) be available at larger libraries. Try searching for Keyline Plan (1954), Challenge of Landscape (1958) and Water for Every Farm (1968). Good luck with it, and don't forget to let us know how you get on. Further concerning Keyline: Darren Doherty (see: https://www.permaculture.biz/education/c ... tegoryID=2) runs a Keyline course, but has nothing scheduled at the moment. Darren is currently in the USA however, running a Carbon Farming course across California. Maybe you can catch up with him sometime in the near future?

    Cheerio, Mark.
     
  10. wilhelmf

    wilhelmf New Member

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    Tucson Swales

    Aye, here there be swales!

    I was thinking of going to the Tucson Swales on vacation time to take soil and botanical samples/density measurements compared to the surrounding areas. Has anyone done this lately (as of 4/4/12)? I'd like to download that information if I could, rather than travel 1400 miles...

    Are these swales on Federal Land? What would be the legality of taking out some of the native vegetation and commence dryland farming experimentation with legume/fruit/nut/perennial crops, and putting a monitoring microcamera in the area? I saw Mollison on youtube strolling through the area on his Dryland Farming I video, but have no idea how heavily the area is visited. it's not as far outside Tucson as I might have hoped, per how undisturbed the site(s) might remain if it(they) were altered. I wouldn't mind taking that on, unless folks start shooting...

    Thanks for taking the time,

    Fritz
     
  11. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Only problem is with those same swales, the USDA has stopped encouraging farmers to plow with the slope of the soil thus screwing the whole system up. All you have to do is fly cross country once and notice how the plow lines are now all screwed up, which is not how things were prior to WW2.
     
  12. andrew curr

    andrew curr Moderator

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    im dissapointed you didnt drop in marco

    good luck
     
  13. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day Andrew

    It would appear that you joined the PRI Forum well after I submitted that post. However, next time I'm up your way, I'll certainly do my best to drop in.

    Cheerio, and good luck to you, too.

    Markos
     
  14. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    Hello ecodharmamark,
    around here we Banana Bender Aussies call them "pondages". A swale was a term used in my youth for the dune behind a beach for-dune. There are plenty in Qld especially west and North west of Rockhampton on a very large scale. Some 5-10 km long, holding back moisture for kilometres. They are also used to direct water into storages in heavy rainfall events. My late Father built some around the Dulacca area in the 1940's with horses and mouldboard ploughs and dam scoops. He grew sorghums and millets in summer in the resultant pondage. I know of plenty that have been functional for over 30 years in grazing areas where there is a marked summer/autumn wet and winter/spring dry season on gently sloping country. Plenty of Keyline drained farms here as well. One of my surveyor brothers was involved on a large scale in western Queensland in the early '70's. I still use my modified yeoman's on an annual basis. I have a 3 tine and a 5 tine that I hire out also. The main problem is that pondages only work if you have rain. After many years of drought the vegetation dies off them and when it does rain, and then heavily they can easily be eroded. They cost money to build and maintain.
    Are you sure that what you saw were not good old fashioned 1 degree fall contour banks, designed to slow the flow of water off slopes and direct the water to grassed waterways to minimise soil erosion? These contour banks have been used for over 50 years by farmers all over Australia. They came about after the second world war when heavy earth moving machinery became widely available, but were largely done in the 60's and 70's with the aid of tax deductability of soil conservation measures and relatively cheaper fuel prices.
     
  15. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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