045 – Water Harvesting, Ponds, and Alternative energy

Published 12 years ago in missoula , Permaculture , Podcasts - 0 Comments

Paul, Caleb, and Krista review Geoff Lawton’s movie, “Water Harvesting”. After a little initial joking about Paul’s ‘water sound effects’, the three of them introduce themselves and then discuss the dinner they had along with having watched the movie. Focusing then on the topic, Paul gives an overview of the events of the movie. This included laying out the pond, building it and a lot of meticulous action on the part of the Trackhoe operator.

Paul notes that they have been looking at Caleb and Krista’s property, where it was originally a gravel pit. They talk about how deeply the original digging happened and the quality of the soil on the property. The property has a deep-running blend of sand and clay soil. In some places, water is surprisingly close to the surface despite being the dry part of the year. Paul notes that the area is considered mountain desert.

They discuss how they tend to have different parts they favor and dislike, based on their own experiences. Paul feels that the two of them are on a good path and are enthusiastic enough to do great over the course of years. It turns out that Paul didn’t realize there were other permaculture podcasts until it was mentioned in an earlier conversation. Paul did some research, but the ones he found didn’t have his style at all. Paul also mentions that he has a hard time seeing the value in podcasts since he himself doesn’t actually listen to them, instead favoring videos.

The topic strays briefly into podcasting and some of Paul’s former podcasts before returning to the movie. Paul felt there was a lot of useful information in the video, but also things that frustrated him. The video was focused on a key-based damrather than a bowl based one. This means that everything depends on how you build the dam and the bowl is left to chance. He was concerned that it assumes water won’t simply filter down and out of the pond, which is not always the case. This is likely an automatic assumption due to the high levels of clay in the soil where the video was shot.

One important aspect of building a dam in clay soil that the video failed to mention, according to Paul, was that they put a flat top on it. Paul feels that a crown (rounded top) is needed to ensure water doesn’t settle on the top of the dam, weakening it. Krista states that they did that to allow the trackhoe to drive over it and compact the dam. She wonders if Paul would do it the same way and then dome over the top afterward.

Paul feels that while building it, he would focus heavily on the key (2ft wide vertical wall) in the dam, making sure it is as watertight as can possibly be managed. You need different strategies with different soils, but with clay he feels a new crown should be added every one foot layer. Always build it as though it is going to rain. It may need to dry with each layer. The shaping adds integrity and creates a much better water shedding shape.

Paul would put a bucket on the front of the trackhoe and press down anywhere it is working to create a really tight seal. In the video, they simply drove the trackhoe over the area to be packed and the treads weren’t packing it down enough in Paul’s opinion. Caleb mentions that at the end of the DVD, they go over other methods of packing down the dam, including roller wheels (colt’s foot) that go at the end of the bucket.

Another thing that bothers Paul is that water doesn’t actively enter the pond most of the year. Pie interrupts his discussion before it continues with mention that the pond in the video was harvesting rainwater mostly from a road and the surrounding ground. Paul wishes he would have talked about the lack of oxygenation in the video and how they were going to resolve the issue. Paul is passionate about steadily running water flowing into a pond to oxygenate it.

Paul’s property was falsely noted as having a continuous flowing creek, so when he stocked a pond with trout, all of them died in the summer when the creek dried up. He has considered a series of ponds to hold water so that a flow can be achieved permanently on the lowest pond. One thing Paul really liked about the video was adding a finger to the pond that outlet water. This is something that Paul did as well to avoid erosion of the dam.

Paul mentions the painting on the ground and the placement of stakes on both sides of the swales. Paul notes that you dig on the uphills side and drop on the downhill side. Lawton’s video had the trackhoe navigating carefully between the two stakes. Paul felt like using the people in the video with shovels would have gone faster than the trackhoe due to how shallowly it was digging and how carefully measured it had to be.
Caleb notes that Lawton seemed to want to avoid disturbing the area where water would flow over the swale. Keeping the overflow perfectly level is vital. When the mention of trees being chipped was brought up in the video, Paul wanted to forward hugelkultur. They aren’t sure if Geoff Lawton knew about hugelkultur at that point. Paul mostly dislikes the use of a wood chipper.

Paul really liked the animation and commentary about how a small dribble can destroy a dam. Krista asks if water harvesting is enough to hydrate a clay-heavy landscape like hers. Paul feels that it won’t be an issue at all. With hugelkultur beds already in place and more added, it would retain a great deal more moisture on the property. Caleb’s main point for a pond is to swim, while Krista mentions using it for ducks and geese. They all agree there needs to be segregated ponds for animals and people due to the mess. Paul states the only limitation is the limited acres (3+)
They talked about raising pigs and how even two would require bringing in outside feed. With one, they would be okay, but it wasn’t fair to the pig. Paul would rather have the space to raise litters of pigs where he could be sure of the quality. Krista asks about if Paul is eating the younger pigs or only the older ones. Paul would be eating both. Older pigs would end up being a lot more sausage, while the younger ones being culled at 5 months would be for meat. Most pigs are butchered when quite young.

Caleb asks about Paul’s view of how to dig the pond and compaction. Paul doesn’t think compaction is needed with the clay levels of the soil. Since they are wanting a natural pool, they may want to get the instructional videos on those. If there isn’t water flowing by nature, a pump would need to be added. Paul is concerned about water temperature. Paul keeps his ponds cool, but most people prefer swimming in warm ponds. His were used for trout, that need the cold.

Paul expects they will need at least two pumps to make sure it stays clean even if one goes out unexpectedly. Caleb notes you can’t over-oxygenate the water, so it isn’t a bad thing. Paul thinks it is 16 percent dilution of oxygen maximum. Paul moves onto the topic of solar energy, since it is connected with the pumps. Paul’s position, which he is trying to understand better and validate, is that most people fail to understand that much of the ‘savings’ of solar is cutting their electrical usage by a factor of five to ten. If they did the same thing while staying on the grid, they would have saved more money in the long run.
Caleb thinks you don’t need to go off grid if you are already on grid. Backup systems are of value, but 20,000 dollar systems aren’t needed. Solar feeding back into an existing grid is a lot more efficient. He also agrees that using less energy is most important. People with new solar systems often watch far more closely about their usage. There /are/ a lot of reasons to have solar, so saving money isn’t the only consideration.

Paul feels that everything on the grid is causing lots of problems, so it isn’t a bad thing to get off the grid, but agrees with Caleb that the batteries are trading one environmental problem for another. The production and nature of the panels themselves are also problematical. Caleb mentions Hydro and wind. Paul clarifies micro-hydro vs damming. Many dams are getting massive buildups of silt behind them and the cost of dredging is more than the energy they produce is worth.

Caleb backtracks to mention that solar laying flush with a roof can lose all of its efficiency on hot days. The conclusion is that placement is vital and freestanding are far superior to those attached to a roof. Also, many of the solar panels they have seen are placed in areas where they are in shade for as many as six hours a day. Some get only an hour of daylight a day. Solar farms come into play because people want solar, but may not have a workable location for it.

The neighbor gained a ton of power from the wind generator recently because of the level of air flow. The amount of power they use in a day has been made by the neighbor by 11 in the morning. This is where they begin to wrap up and a little small talk about the meal and the podcasts is discussed.

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Credit: D. Logan

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Tags: greywater, water