PDC Day 5: Water

Permaculturalists design for water before anything else.

Water is the limiting factor in many landscapes. Even in wet places like Nova Scotia it could be, and often is the limiting factor in late summer.

As the climate changes, we can expect water to become more of an issue. Today Graham Calder showed us some ways of capturing, storing and purifying water for plant use as well as for direct human use.

Solar shower runoff swale, covered with a light straw mulch

Permaculture makes extensive use of swales which capture runoff and allow it to soak into the ground to nourish plants. We built a swale outside our solar shower the other day and some of the seeds sown then are already sprouting.

The soil can absorb a lot of moisture if it is in good condition. Decompacting soil with keyline ploughing can reduce water runoff to virtually zero. Other techniques for large and small scale situations can be as simple as raking, or using a pitting roller on large stretches of compacted soil.

Small dams, wetlands and swamps can help droughtproof a site. Earthwork dams across contours can create ponds on a small or large scale. Existing wetlands and rivers are not altered.

Graham said he was keeping his presentation on water pollutants briefer than in previous courses he has taught because it tends to result in “a lot of crying”. There’s certainly enough to cry about, starting with the 62,000 chemicals which were grandfathered in for public use without safety testing after World War II.

A more complex water cycle than the one you probably learned in school - this one includes the effects of the forests.

While this course teaches about how we could be processing our waste, for example, so much more sustainably, reflecting on how things are usually done makes one realize the enormous scope of our errors.

The mechanisms of nature are very strong, however, and leave me all the more motivated to help heal my little piece of the earth.

There are solutions that can be applied on the small scale, such as fungi (mushrooms) that break down toxic chemicals and bacteria and eat diesel oil. There are also home-scale greywater treatment systems for making the best use of the water we have available, rather than contaminating it with what comes out of the toilet.

Large-scale solutions are infinitely more complex, but as human ingenuity is one of those strong mechanisms of nature, there is yet hope.



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