[San Diego, CA Permaculture] On dealing with drought Clay McGlaughlin/The Times-Standard Part 1 of 2 permaculture and drought.

Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network lakinroe at silcom.com
Mon Apr 14 07:10:42 PDT 2014

On dealing with drought Part 1
Clay McGlaughlin/The Times-Standard
POSTED:   04/06/2014 02:38:21 AM PDT0 COMMENTS
UPDATED:   04/10/2014 12:38:48 PM PDT
(Note: This is part one of a two-part series on permaculture and drought. Part two will run next Sunday, and will feature more suggestions and adaptations for weathering droughts.)

As the basis of all life on Earth, water is such an everyday part of our lives that we sometimes forget its importance. That is, we forget until events like the ongoing drought in California remind us how dependent our lives are on the natural cycles that provide us with food, energy and fresh water.

Even with recent rain showers offering some relief from the worst of the drought, snowpack levels are still far below “normal.” The California Department of Water Resources reports that the state has only 35 percent of its usual snow-pack as of April 4, and the northern area of the state is at about 26 percent.

“Snowpack is super critical for the North Coast,” said Mark DuPont of Klamath Knot Permaculture in a recent interview. “The lack of snowpack means that we're just not going to have water stored up in the mountains. And once you get out of this fogbelt on the coast, what you find is that we actually live in a dry-land climate for half the year. A dry-land climate is where evapo-transpiration exceeds precipitation, and without the snow melting to mitigate that, we're really going to feel like we're living in a dry-land climate. So I think that in itself is going to force us to change our attitudes and our habits.”

DuPont said the drought will likely result in a longer fire season, as well as a shortage of water for farmers and individuals who rely on streams, creeks and wells for their water.

“I think a lot of people are nervous. I'm seeing that this year. I live in the interior (near Orleans), and water isn't distributed evenly on the landscape. Those people who are living on the marginal springs and creeks are nervous,” he said. “There's a lot of concern even for community systems, but I don't think the fact that this could be chronic rather than episodic is necessarily sinking in. ... It's tempting to think of the current dry spell as an episode that we have to weather and get through, but in reality we have no way of knowing whether we're approaching the end of a three-year drought or we're in the early phases of a 10- to 20-year drought. Tree ring and sediment studies reveal that we're now in the driest period in 400 years, but before that droughts lasting 10, 20 and even 50 years were not uncommon.”

Part of the problem is that civilization's massive expansion over the past few centuries has occurred in a relatively stable period that may now be coming to an end.

“The century starting in the late 1800s was the wettest 100-year period during the past 7,000 years,” DuPont wrote in an email. “This also happens to have been the time when the massive water infrastructure of the West was made -- dams were built, reservoirs filled, pipes and aqueduct laid, and far more water was promised than now exists. ... I think the biggest change has to happen up here in people's mindset. We're used to abundant water and we may not have that in our future, so it has to start from the way you treat and look at water, and the assumptions that you make that it's always going to be there in large quantities.”

As the saying goes, “The only constant in life is change,” and that goes for the climate as well.

“While studies of the past reveal less rainfall, climate models for the future predict far less snowpack. The Six Rivers that shape the North Coast and feed our creeks, homesteads and towns all originate in the high country and are fed by snowpack. That snow supports the entire state, from high mountain meadows and streams all the way down to coastal farms and population centers,” DuPont said. 

“It is the reason we can have drought and high temperatures for six to seven months of the year and still have cold, fresh water surging through our creeks and rivers. But like the rest of the world, the snow in Northern California is diminishing. In the 2012-13 season, Klamath snowpack was at 35 percent of normal. This year it is less than 20 percent. A report published in 2010 by the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy synthesizes the best climate models available and projects that within 70 years our snowpack will be virtually gone. In other words, our hydrology is changing. The question is whether our attitudes and habits will change with it, and in a timely fashion.”

DuPont recommends using permaculture to prepare for climatic changes, and says it is one of the most effective tools for adapting human settlements to the environment. “Permaculture is the design and creation of sustainable human habitat,” he said. “Any culture that has been in one place for a long period and lived by the cycles and seasons of that place is by nature sustainable, but ever since the Industrial Revolution, our lifestyle is predicated on massive injections of fossil fuel and a rate of consumption that far outpaces natural regeneration -- what Kenny Ausbell calls a 'mining of the past and mortgaging of the future.' Permaculture is an effort to make this all visible and re-align our habits with the cycles and seasons of our place.”

Using water as an example, he said a permaculture designer first identifies how water flows through a site -- from rainfall to roofwater and stormwater -- and then examines how it is used for domestic, landscaping and gardening purposes.

Designers then work to maximize the benefits of water by slowing it down and allowing it to sink into the ground; capturing and storing it in tanks and soil; using it efficiently with low-flow fixtures and native landscaping; and then recycling graywater from sinks, showers and washing machines back into the landscape.

“This is similar to the way water moves through an intact, mature ecosystem -- slowly and circuitously, being cycled and recycled many times for many different uses along the way,” DuPont said.

Adaptation strategies

Dan Mar, owner of High Tide Permaculture in Arcata, said there are a range of adaptations and adjustments that people can make to help them get through droughts. He suggests actions like replacing water-guzzling lawns with drought-tolerant plants, installing rainwater catchment systems and using graywater and laundry-to-landscape setups to make use of water multiple times.

“You've got to look at what leads to the loss of water,” said Mar. “No. 1 is lack of organic material in the soil. No. 2 is not protecting the soil. So, in your garden beds, whether you've got veggies or flowers or whatever, that soil has to be protected. It has to be covered with mulches. Otherwise, your evaporation rate is huge, so you're losing a lot of that water you put in the ground. No. 3 is not choosing appropriate types of plants. Obviously, choosing plants that require a lot of watering is going to take water out of the ground that you've put in. So appropriate plant choices are important. But the most common problem I see is unprotected soil. Just bare, exposed soil that the sun is just beating on.”

Mar said that about 80 percent of his current clientele are people who are concerned about conserving water, and he recently published a free brochure called “Water Through a Permaculture Lens” for those who would like to learn more about available strategies. (The brochure is available online at http://tinyurl.com/mar-water.)

“I get so many people calling me for information that I thought, 'I've gotta get something in text out there to get ahead of me and disseminate information to dispel all the scariness and the myths about this so people can start moving into this appropriately. The water issue is huge right now. We're seeing this at the national and state level -- everyone is coming to terms now with the reality of water, and we need to loosen up regulations so we can do simple things like this.”

In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “Rainwater Capture Act,” exempting the capture and use of rainwater that falls on rooftops from the State Water Resources Control Board's permitting authority. That means homeowners are now allowed to capture and store rainwater for non-potable uses without an arduous permit process.

For those who are interested in catching and storing rainwater (again, only for non-drinking purposes), Mar said there are three phases to planning and implementing a system:

Step 1 -- Do the math. According to Mar's brochure, a 1,000-square-foot roof will yield 600 gallons of water from one inch of rainfall. “People tend to be cynical and say, 'Oh, it's not even raining that much.' But even the little bit of rain we've gotten has been tens of thousands of gallons already, so you don't need a lot,” Mar said. “But then you've got to think about storing it, and it weighs 8 1/2 pounds per gallon. The common mistake there is that people don't start with the math, and they don't know what the potential is. They get carried away with the systems they design, because water is really heavy.”

Step 2 -- Filter the water. “You want to get it as filtered as possible, so definitely use some sort of leaf debris screen in the gutter, and then a first-flush mechanism to take the sediment out. So that's another big problem, people just stick a downspout onto the top of their tank and fill it, but all of that debris is going into the tank. So you want to keep as much debris out of the tank as possible.”

Step 3 -- Use and distribution. Mar said that most households will never be able to catch and store as much water as they need, so integrating a catchment system with other harvesting methods is critical. “You'd have to have a ridiculous number of tanks on your property, so it's not going to happen. ... So, once you catch the water in your tank -- and because based on the math, you're going to fill up that tank real quick -- what are you doing with the other water? That other water needs to be harvested in the soil through earth-works like infiltration basins, mulch basins, rain gardens -- stuff like that. Essentially, recharging ground water as much as you possibly can so that when you are using the water stored in your tanks or barrels, you're using it as far out in the season as possible.”


Water Through a Permaculture Lens
This brochure was created by Dan Mar of High Tide Permaculture of Arcata, CA. It details several strategies that homeowners can use to conserve and store water in order to weather droughts and other natural disasters.
The second part of this story (which will run next Sunday) will examine other strategies that individuals and public entities can use to conserve water and weather droughts. For those who would like more in-depth and comprehensive information about ways to design homes, yards and whole communities more efficiently, Klamath Knot Permaculture is offering a six-session Permaculture Design Course starting April 17. For more information, visithttp://klamathknot.com/workshops-and-events/ and http://hightidepermaculture.com.

On dealing with drought, part 2
Clay McGlaughlin/The Times-Standard

(Note: This is the second and final part of a series on permaculture and drought. Part 1 ran last Sunday, and can be found online at http:// tinyurl.com/p-drought1.)
Last week, Mark DuPont of Klamath Knot Permaculture and Dan Mar of High Tide Permaculture offered some suggestions for dealing with the ongoing drought in California. This week, we'll examine several more adaptations that residents can try out in order to make homes and farms more resilient when water becomes scarce.

”These strategies start simple and cheap and become increasingly more complex and costly,” said DuPont. “Sheet mulching is cheap and easy -- you'll have to buy or scrounge some manure and/or compost, but the rest can be had for cheap or free. Digging a simple, shallow swale to catch and infiltrate runoff can be done with a simple A-frame level and a shovel and some elbow grease. ... A laundry-to-landscape system will set you back the cost of some plumbing fixtures and black pipe. Graywater and rainwater catchment systems range from simple and cheap to elaborate and expensive, depending fully on the complexity of the system.”

Where to begin

”The first thing to try is minimizing your lawn,” said DuPont. “Minimize the size as much as you can, because a lawn is an impervious surface. Most people don't think of it like that, but most lawns over time become compacted, and water sheds right off of them. So a lawn becomes similar to pavement, in that it inhibits the infiltration of rainwater into aquifers.”

As for what you replace all that grass with, the options are almost limitless. “One of the things we do in permaculture is design and install food forests, which use fully-mulched, drought-tolerant plants. Even if they're not completely drought-proof, they're drought-tolerant plants that have low water needs. So, here on the coast, that could be a nice, sheet-mulched patch that includes berries -- blueberries, cane berries, blackberries, raspberries -- in the understory, with an overstory of disease-resistant apples and pears and plums. And then on into a whole wide host of exotic plants you can put in there,” DuPont said.

For suggestions about which species thrive in this area, he recommended Sean Armstrong's planting guide “Fruits of the Humboldt Bay” (available at http://tiny url.com/safohb).

Build the soil

DuPont also emphasized building healthy, organically rich soil, since each 1 percent increase in organic matter allows soil to hold an additional 16,500 gallons (yes, you read that correctly) of plant-available water per acre down to one foot deep, according to scientists at the Arkansas Water Resources Research Center.

Since agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of human water use in California, this research has huge implications for farmers who use artificial fertilizers, pesticides and heavy equipment, all of which deplete organic matter and impoverish the soil, thereby reducing its capacity to hold water.

”Some of the most water-efficient means of producing food are on the small scale that people do in their yards. Organic, bio-intensive approaches actually use only a fraction of the water that corporate agriculture does. That's something we should balance out in our equations when we're trying to figure out how and where to grow our food,” DuPont said.

”The way I look at it, if we start building in more water storage and water efficiency and wise use of water into our homes and communities now, it's like a catastrophic insurance policy. Best case scenario is that we'll never have to use it, just like we hope that we'll never need our catastrophic auto insurance.”

Earthworks: Swales, berms and basins

”'Slow it, spread it, sink it' is the mantra coined by water wizard Brock Dolman,” DuPont wrote in an email. He said that earthworks like berms and basins are “shapes and contours in the landscape that slow the path of water so that it can spread out and then sink in, restor(ing) the hydrologic cycle by recharging groundwater. ... While some earthworks require heavy equipment, most can be surveyed using a simple A-frame level and installed by hand with a shovel and hoe.”

Swales are essentially shallow ditches that follow the contour of a slope, catching and collecting water that can then sink into the soil. Berms are mounds on the downhill side of swales that can then be planted with useful or decorative species. These simple setups can greatly reduce the need for irrigation.

While these projects are fairly simple, DuPont cautioned that people should “do some research and/or take a workshop before you start digging ... I always recommend people to start small and build on success.”

Graywater systems

Mar said that in addition to rainwater catchment systems, which were discussed in the first part of this series, graywater systems that recycle water from a home for landscaping purposes can save lots of money and moisture.

”Graywater systems are really important in aiding in the recharge of our ground water supplies,” said Mar. “Any homeowner can discharge their washing machine into their landscape, up to 250 gallons per day. And you don't need a permit or anything for that. So that's great. There are appropriate ways of doing it, though, so don't just stick the hose out the window. You want to make sure it goes into a mulch basin, but it's super simple to do and anybody can do that.”

When creating and using a graywater system, it's important to remember to use biodegradable laundry soaps, and to filter the water in mulch basins, which allow the water to infiltrate the ground and be purified by soil and plants.

(For more details about this process, visit http://greywateraction.org/content/about- greywater-reuse. A PDF outlining these systems is available from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center --http://tinyurl.com/oaecgray)

Mar also mentioned that homeowners can now use “single-source” graywater, which includes water from a bathroom sink or shower.

”It's a simple permitting process, and the reason you need a permit for that is because you are changing the existing plumbing of your home. ... But it's really simple, we're talking a one-page application and a simple pencil drawing demonstrating the system,” he said.

”They also want to see the numbers. They want to see that you've done your homework. How much water do you use in that sink per day? Per week? What's the size of the graywater system that's going to be receiving that water?

”So again, math. You gotta do your math.”

Composting toilets

With fresh water in increasingly short supply, it makes sense -- and may soon become a necessity -- to use recycled water to fill toilets, and then to recycle it again once it's flushed down the tubes.

”If you look at one barrel (of rainwater from a catchment system) ... that one barrel allows you to flush your toilet 34 times. Now think about how many times you flush your toilet in a given day,” said Mar.

”The average person might flush four times. So that gives you over a week's worth of toilet flushing on one single barrel. And that's a week's worth of toilet flushing where you didn't use water that came from a creek or a stream or a reservoir ...

”It's crazy that we're the world leaders, and we flush our toilets with drinking water.”

For those who are ready to get away from flushing water down the drain entirely, DuPont recommended composting toilets, which he said can save up to 3,000 gallons of water per year, “while converting human manure into a high-quality, odor- and pathogen-free soil amendment.” Sunfrost in Arcata sells a “Human Humus Machine” for this purpose at http://www.sunfrost.com/compost ing_toilets.html.

Taking action

Mar said that, in the end, whether people adopt one large change or many smaller ones, it's taking action that counts. “Every little bit helps. ... We can talk about this all the time, but until it turns into action, we're just going to keep talking in circles about it. 'Yeah, we're in a drought. The drought's still here.' But I don't see it as a dire thing. I don't see our present drought as something dire and something we should be stressing out about. I just think it's a way that we can look into doing things differently.”

DuPont agreed that this is a time of opportunity.

”There's a lot of evidence out there, both from the past and looking at the future, that we're going to have less water.

”So hopefully, we can get people convinced to change just on that basis. I think that the drought is going to go a long way to convince people that we need to use water differently,” he said.


For more information online, check out these resources:






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