Doreen Fogle: Catch, conserve water now and recharge your well and soil
I’ve learned something new that changes the way I think of rainfall and our wells. The water that falls on our ground recharges our wells. Not someone’s way downslope, but our own wells, or at least those of ours and our near neighbors. We can take charge of the water that falls and get it into our wells.
I learned this from Evelyn Soltero, a local geoscientist who helps people with their well systems and groundwater-wise land management. According to Soltero, the rock below our soils is a fractured rock with many disconnected aquifers going in all directions.
When rain falls on our land the water soaks into the soil and eventually seeps deeper into the fractured rock pockets into which our wells tap.
There are also certain sites that are geologically more receptive to rainwater and are key infiltration sites. These key sites get the most rainfall into the fractured rock pockets — recharging our aquifers.
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It’s important to keep these key infiltration sites uncovered. When we pave or build over these sites, far less water gets into those fractured rock pockets. Instead, rainfall becomes runoff and gets channeled to the nearest waterway. Not into our soils, not to the deep tree roots, and not to the aquifer on which your well relies.
Soltero is able to locate spots on your property that are key infiltration sites to help you decide where to build or pave, and if they’re already blocked, how to mitigate the problem. Her company is All About Wells, and she can be reached at email@example.com.
Catch the rainfall: slow it, spread it, sink it
In order to get any rainfall to soak into the soil we need to follow the popular mantra “slow it, spread it, sink it.” There are lots of ways to do this.
When we slow the flow of rainfall over the land we give it more time to soak in. Adding texture to the surface slows the flow of rainfall. One way is to add mulch to the soil surface. Wood chips are great, as are straw, compost, and other forms of organic matter. Plus, a soil rich in organic matter is more receptive to water due to its texture and its porosity. Even gravel slows the rainfall.
Vegetation is one of the best ways to slow, spread and sink rainfall. Water follows roots and carries the water deeply into the soil. Plants add texture that slows the water down, roots to help sink it, and organic matter that increases soil porosity.
Of course, heavy rain events can quickly overwhelm the ability to slow the water, but slowing it is the first step. The next way is to include structures that spread out the flow of water to give it time to sink in.
A swale is a depression in the soil that runs along a contour. You just dig it. It allows more time for runoff to sink in. When it fills and runs off, dig some more swales at the edges and below to catch, spread, and sink that water, too.
Rain gardens are a form of a swale. Use plants that tolerate flooding and surround them with attractive, flowering plants that can tap into the increased soil moisture long into the dry season. If the rain garden is quickly overwhelmed with water, consider a series of them to sink the overflow.
Check dams, of any size, hold the water back to pool up and sink in. These are structures that you can make from rocks, earth, or even reeds or willow branches. Their purpose is to catch some water, not necessarily all.
The best way to locate where water flows over the surface of your land is to go out in a rainstorm and watch. This can give you ideas where you can slow it with organic matter or catch the flow with a structure.
Lots of information on how to build and work with these structures can be found in the book “Rainwater Harvesting for Dryland and Beyond” by Brad Lancaster. Or look it up online, there’s a lot out there.
Soil compaction prevents water from sinking into the soil. Evelyn said she noticed a lot of compaction happening from where her horse walked around a lot. As one who strives to maximize water infiltration, she mitigated the problem with heavy layers of straw on the ground to slow runoff and build topsoil.
Another thing to consider is the hard surfaces on your property. Whenever possible, choose more water permeable surfaces such as gravels, wood chips, or decomposed granite for walkways or sitting areas. Even brick or rock with spaces between helps soak in more water for your plants and well.
Parched land in Zimbabwe becomes productive farm
There was a man in Zimbabwe who, with his young family, moved onto a parched piece of land. It was the practice then, as it is all over the world, to channel water away to prevent flooding. This was leaving local wells exceedingly dry and vulnerable to drought, and the farming poor.
This amazing man, Mr. Phiri, realized that if he captured the rain and allowed it to sink in he could get the rainwater into the soil and into the rock below. He set about studying his land, where the water traveled, and built earthen structures that would hold back water during rainstorms, allowing it to sink. He combined these activities with planting trees and other plants, especially food plants, which helped slow the water and sink it.
His land received very little rainfall. Sometimes only one day during the three month wet season. But with his water harvesting strategies he ended up with an abundance of water and a highly productive farm that supported his growing family. And it earned him a reputation as the “Water Harvester”.
For a happy and inspiring story look up Mr. Phiri for YouTube videos about his methods. Look for “The Rainwater Harvester.”
Land in Texas becomes wildlife-rich oasis
David Bamberger was the co-owner of Church’s Chicken. When he sold his share he purchased the worst and driest piece of land in Texas he could find and got to work transforming it.
His method was to plant the native grasses that survive on that land. Remember, roots allow the water to sink in deeper. And grasses have abundant, long roots.
His bedrock is a limestone formation full of large open spaces. When he started, the spaces were dry. After a few years of grass growth, water once again filled those open spaces in the rock and oozed out into natural springs, replenishing ponds and waterways that had dried up long ago. The land now supports abundant wildlife.
Go to YouTube and watch the beautiful and inspiring film: “Selah: Water From Stone.”
All these strategies can work greatly to enhance the rainfall capture and retention on your property. The water that gets held in the soil, if it’s held there with protection from the sun and heat with mulch and kept from water greedy plants, will be available for a longer time to your deep rooted plants and to your well.
Soltero makes house calls to assess the health of your well, pump or water quality system. She can advise you on the best land management practices that work best with your well. She gives classes and speaking engagements to inform people and neighborhoods on how they can manage their water supply. See her upcoming classes on “Residential Wells” and “Gardening with Your Well” at sierracommunityed.org. Her website is invitewatertostay.com.
Take charge of the water that falls on your land and work with your well to help you weather the inevitable droughts that will be coming our way.
Doreen Fogle is a landscape designer and writer in Nevada County. More of her articles can be found on her website mydelightfulgardens.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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