Water: A Blessing or a Curse?

One of the most important needs of any farm or ranch is water. Without water life is impossible. But not all water is created equal. 

City water is loaded with chemicals so we're thankful we're not in the city. We're on a well-share with three other properties and no chemicals are used. This satisfies our consumption needs. 

Plants and trees have different needs. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with microbes in the soil and some of the chemicals in city water and treated well water are designed to kill microbes, which then affects plants' ability to access soil nutrients. Plus chemicals can harm the plants themselves. Untreated well water can be high in minerals such as sodium that can have the same effects on soil life and plants that chemicals can have. 

Plants actually prefer rainwater. It's no wonder since that's the way they were designed. Pure rainwater washes away chemical and mineral buildup on the plants and in the soil and balances the pH. It also supplies beneficial nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen. There may be other benefits we haven't yet discovered, but every observant gardener knows that rain causes plants to flourish.

If you want to grow your own food, you might want to start by planting the rain! The most cost-effective way to harvest huge amounts of rainwater is by storing it in the soil. There are many ways to do this. This video is a great introduction to this idea.
If you live in an area where it rains a few times a week all year long, you have no need to harvest the rain. But if you're like most of the world's population, water scarcity is a real possibility without good management. Mismanagement actually creates conditions that turn water into a hazard. 

Flash flooding is a frequent problem in Arizona and some other desert environments. People contribute to this problem with common practices that shed water as quickly as possible. Tilling the soil and using chemical fertilizers and biocides hurt the beneficial microbes in the soil which in turn hurts plants. Clear-cutting vegetation destroys the symbiotic relationship that soil microbes had with those plants and without shade they roast in the sun. As the life leaves the soil it heats up and creates a more desert-like environment that everything has a hard time surviving in. When rain hits this hard, dry dirt, it quickly runs away creating erosion and flash flooding. 

People can also be a part of the solution! Simple earthworks can be used to slow, spread, and sink water into the earth. Building soil life turns it into a sponge that soaks up and stores water. Edible and medicinal vegetation can thrive in this environment and provide shade, attract butterflies, birds, and other beneficial wildlife, reduce flooding, become drought tolerant, increase the value of your property, enhance your neighborhood, recharge the aquifer, and bless your community. I'm going to highlight one of the many projects we're working on for an example. 

The project consists of turning a weed patch and erosion hazard into a good-looking resource. It is located at the lower end of our parking lot. Storm-water currently collects at the bottom and then rushes down into a wash. It's creating erosion right beside the neighborhood's private road. Additionally, storm-water that falls on the road is causing serious erosion on the other side of the road above the culvert that the wash flows through. This will all lead to expensive repairs if corrective action isn't taken.

My plan is to create three infiltration basins that harvest rainwater from the parking lot and from the road. They will overflow into one another and in extra-large rain events they will allow controlled flow into the wash without causing erosion. The most prominent basin will have multi-level terraces, adding visual appeal. Native, water-loving plants/trees will be added at different levels with cacti planted at elevated levels. Stabilizing rock-work will be used throughout the basins and they will be lined with wood chips that will help retain moisture and build soil.
Before Pictures
I am excited about this project! It takes a problem (erosion-causing runoff) and turns it into a solution (infiltrating water into the soil will help all the surrounding trees and other vegetation). It will also improve the aesthetics in the neighborhood and help maintain the road in good working condition. I'll provide an update at some point with "after" pictures.

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2 thoughts on “Water: A Blessing or a Curse?”

  1. Pingback: Plant the Rain, Grow the Soil, Reap the Harvest – Sabbatical Ranch

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