Generous Neighbors

Gravel and urbanite, stormwater and topsoil: all inadvertent gifts from neighbors near and far. Some people may look at these things as problems rather than gifts, but we turn problems into solutions and put them all to good use!

Years before we bought this property I'm guessing one or more contractors delivered quite a bit of urbanite to it. If you don't know what urbanite is, it's broken up concrete. Imagine that a sidewalk or driveway fails by cracking and breaking up over time. A contractor is hired to replace it with a new one. Instead of hauling the rubble to the dump and paying the fee, he takes it out to a vacant property in the countryside and dumps it. Obviously not very ethical.

In addition to numerous urbanite dump spots, there were also a few piles of different sized gravel in various places on the property when we bought it less than two years ago. Who knows what the story behind the gravel piles are, but we put it all to use. An example of how we've used the gravel is our parking lot is now covered with it! We also produced a fair amount of the parking lot gravel ourselves, but we didn't have to buy any. Gravel is also one of the layers we use in creating earthen floors in our ranch domes.
Daughter Screening Dirt to Create Sand for Plastering Superadobe Domes – Gravel Is a Byproduct
We have found a few uses for urbanite, but most of it has gone into creating one-rock dams to harvest the neighbors' rainwater and capture their topsoil. Many people around here design their landscapes to shed water as fast as possible and it takes the topsoil with it. One of our neighbors told me the only thing he can grow is rocks. As he loses his topsoil, more and more rocks keep appearing. 

Others may not want rainwater and topsoil, but we sure do! And we're building fertility with it. The idea behind rainwater harvesting earthworks is to slow the runoff, spread it out, and sink it into the ground. Water in the ground sustains life - it is used by plants as well as soil microbes that help make plants healthy. It also recharges the aquifer so wells don't run dry.

We have a fairly big incised channel as a result of runoff from our neighbors. It's probably about 250' long from where it begins at our border as a barely noticeable low spot to the point where it joins Kai Blue Creek. About halfway along that 250' there's a waterfall and the erosion at that point is about 10' wide and 10' deep, eventually expanding about twice that wide before it joins the creek. The way erosion works is the incised channel will just keep working its way upstream a little bit more every time it flows. That is, until we started reversing the erosion with one rock dams. 
Incised Channel at the Waterfall
One-rock dams get their name because they are one rock high. Approximately five rows of rocks span the channel and go far enough up the banks that the water won't just flow around them. The middle row of rocks are the biggest and the bottom row is dug in so the top of those rocks are at ground level. That way they absorb the water's impact as it crashes over the dam and continues downstream. The one-rock dams create a pool of water upstream behind them. All the nutrient-rich sediment that was being washed downstream settles behind the dams while the water is relaxing in the pool and soaking into the surrounding ground. When the sediment buildup level reaches the top of the dam, you build another one-rock dam on top. Repeat one after another and before you know it the incised channel is filled in.
One-Rock Dam at Top of Channel

Does it Work?

Last spring and early summer we worked feverishly to complete all the one-rock dams before monsoon rains started. Not all of the urbanite on the property was in neat piles. Presumably, there were some large piles that a previous property owner bulldozed over the edge of the incised channel and creek bank. Much of this was well buried and had to be dug out. Many chunks are large enough to be barely movable by hand, but there was also lots of small rubble that was tedious to clean up. In some spots, the more we dug, the more we found! It started to feel like one of those jobs that never ends as monsoon season loomed ever closer. It was while digging out urbanite that I uncovered the first rattlesnake I killed last year (ended up killing a total of six - hopefully I cleaned them out of the ranch!). 
Example of Urbanite In Bank
In the picture above there's a 6-foot digging bar in the foreground leaning on a massive chunk of urbanite that gives the Urbanite Trail its name. If anyone figures out how to move it into place for a one-rock dam (there's no tractor access), we'll rename the trail after them! We needed to finish the dams so eventually we stopped digging out urbanite for the season, ending at the spot in the picture. All the urbanite on the property has pretty much all been repurposed now except what's left right in that bank.

We were able to build 18 one-rock dams from top to bottom of the incised channel before monsoon season and were eager to see the results of the stormwater runoff. But we ended up having a "nonsoon" season with only a handful of heavy rain events compared to the year before when we got hit almost everyday from June through September. We were delighted to see the dams work the way they were designed to! They captured lots of topsoil with nine of them maxing out. They raised the channel to be level with the top of the dams. As water flows now it is more spread out which slows it down. The more channelized water becomes, the more powerful its erosive effect. 
Beginnings of an Oasis During the Hottest, Driest Summer Our Neighbor Remembers
The top third of the channel is now at the level we want it and the other two thirds will continue filling in more and more every time it flows - reverse erosion! We built additional one-rock dams on top of some of the filled in ones and they have already started accumulating soil during winter rains. 
In that last picture you might notice some of the large chunks of urbanite in the lowest one-rock dam. Our property soaked up innumerable gallons of water during a year with very limited rain fall. It will now only improve with time.
“He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.” (Psalm 107:35)

Free Consultation

Get Sabbatical Ranch news and get a one-on-one with Chris Stevens to ask anything you want or just introduce yourself and share your story.

We’ll never send you spam or share your email address.

2 thoughts on “Generous Neighbors”

  1. Good afternoon,,

    My wife has struggled with health issues for many years. We are currently down in Sierra Vista, actually close to the Trump wall, in a Airbnb.

    Someone told us about your ranch and we’ve looked it up. We would be interested in coming and having a look.

    We tested her mould levels about six months ago, and they were very high.

    We’re down here from Canada.

    Regards, Jaydon and Gloria Plett

    1. Jaydon and Gloria, it was great visiting with you! Please keep us informed about your progress and if you make it down this way again, please stop by for another visit. I pray for your healing and wisdom. God bless you!

Leave a Comment