Permaculture Design for Water

Permaculture Design for Water

Music Water – Design for water is the bones of any
Permaculture system and often times the way the layout works with water determines the
basic shape of things. Remember our Permaculture principles, which tell us to Observe and Interact,
and Design from Patterns to Details. Our powers of observation and our ability to see the
patterns of water flow need to be developed before we can design for water on our sites. A water supply represents potential; the potential
for people to drink, wash and cook, the potential for irrigating crops, the potential to generate
electricity, the potential to raise fish, and the potential to grow a forest. So the
first rule of working with water is to keep it in its place of highest potential in the
landscape, up high. For a house, the roof represents the place
with the highest potential. With the right roofing materials, clean water can be had
and directed into a storage tank for later use. It never touches the ground, so remains
clean. It can flow by the force of gravity, and be directed to where you want it. The
sides of a roof are like the slopes of a mountain. When we think of keeping water in its place
of highest potential in the landscape at this scale, we think first about covering bare
ground with plants and making the soil able to absorb water. Next we think about places
where we can safely intercept the flow of water with the least amount of effort and
damage. On damaged land, we may need to do some surgery to get the water to slow down,
this may take the form of a swale or a ditch to intercept its water on the way down a slope
and soak it more into the soil, or direct it into ponds or reservoirs. This is what
we can see on a large scale at the Al Baydha project in Saudi Arabia. When we soak water
high up in the watershed, it still moves down, but percolates underground through the soil,
slowly replenishing water tables and feeding streams down below. Slowing, sinking and spreading the water so
it has more surface area contact with the earth will allow time for soils to become
deeply saturated. Deeply wet soils can support trees and shrubs, which in turn can grow food,
create habitat, block the wind, cast shade, produce firewood, attract bees with blossoms,
and provide building materials. The protection that these trees provide causes less evaporation
from the sun and wind. We can see at the urban scale at the house of Brad Lancaster in Tucson,
Arizona where he created a Sonoran Desert forest in the heart of the city using these
rainwater harvesting principles. The ground stays wetter for longer, and it feeds a cycle
of rehydration. We start by planting the water high up in the watershed, and working our
way down. Big open water storages in the desert will
have a lot of evaporation, but in the cool and cold temperate regions and wet tropics,
large open storages of water can have huge benefits. A series of interconnected reservoirs
can virtually drought proof farms by storing enough water to last through prolonged dry
spells. In the tropics, we find historic examples
of how to maximize productivity and edge as we get to the lower, wetter parts of the landscape.
Mexico City is an ancient settlement location, and it’s in a giant bowl surrounded by mountains
where water doesn’t drain, so the bottom was a huge swamp. The Aztecs built a vast
network of islands called chinampas, where they dug down canals in the muck and piled
it up onto rafts, which were then planted and took root. To this day, the chinampas
of Mexico City are productive gardens, which help feed the city. The canals are the transportation,
and fish can be caught in them too. Every time a canal is cleaned out, the mud and muck
are piled on to fertilize the chinampas. Wetlands have a natural capacity as filters,
because we find wetlands low down in the watershed, and they’re used to filtering everything
coming down. So we use this fact to our advantage when creating our own wastewater treatment
systems. Constructed wetlands, greywater systems, and living machines are all types of biological
treatment that you can read about in the links. We build artificial wetlands to handle our
wastewater and use the biology of healthy soil and aquatic plants to break the bonds
of and absorb pollutants. Water is life. Water is sacred. We must protect
the water, and use Permaculture design to replenish and clean water, and restore a healthy
hydrological cycle.

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About the Author: John Markowski


  1. Can I add this video to a website I'm working on? It's for healing the planet and this video is perfect. I couldn't do a better job. It's perfect!

  2. Rain water is not automatically clean water simply because it hasn't touched the ground. You'll want to filter/boil it if you intend to use it.

  3. The 'swale' drawn at 2:21 should be a completely straight horizontal line, based on the profile-view of the house and mountain. The problem in this video is a 2D profile image of the house and mountain, with a 3D isometric perspective of a level-swale-on-contour, and later, the water bodies and wetlands are drawn from a 2D Top-Down perspective. Three different perspective are attempting to mix on the same canvas and will send mixed messages because the water appears to be climbing against gravity.

    To completely convey the concept, four images should have been used from different perspectives. A 2D profile, 3D isometric, 20 front view illustrating the ultra-important-SPILLWAY-safety-feature, and 2D top down view to cover all perspectives relevant to an engineer, student, designer, or developer.

    To be candid, the video needs to be reuploaded with the proper diagrams to articulate the level-swale from the four perspectives (unfortunately only One of the perspectives does not seem to be enough to convey the message).

    This video has 95% "Likes', and has passed the Universities checks and balances, meaning we should be acknowledging that a profound mistake can be overseen by so many, and respond accordingly.

    Opinion: In this a six minute video, chinampas should have been skipped or more brief. Chinampas are without a doubt a top contender for highest efficiency, but they are a situational technique, a sub category of the Design for Water Strategy and may not be ideal to put in a six minute intro video.

    If there is a script and a storyboard for these videos it may help to consult with forums or the /r/permaculture reddit. The university can tap into the practitioners, and we can collaborate to generate concise information that is backed by a Uni to deliver information efficiently

    At the end "water is sacred". Although I do not disagree, but by stating this, by default, you are implying that Other things are not sacred. Which opens up a can of worms that is not relevant to the topic. The definition of 'sacred' to google is:
    – connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.
    In that case, if water is connected to God, then all living things (made of water) are connected to God, and therefore sacred, etc.

    Apologies if my comment comes across as abrasive. I do not think a University or myself wants sugar coating.

  4. Thank you I love these videos! It is recommendable to irrigate crops with treated black and grey water? do constructed wetlands work for low flows, like in a household? what are the links you mentioned for treating ww. Thank you 🙂

  5. good video, good info,

    water is life, but too much water in tropical country such malaysia and sloppy hill will post land slide issue.
    i know slope is no good for ag, but can't help it.
    i think for sloppy terraced orchard, rain water should be lead away fast instead of let it soak into the soil causing saturation…

    any video on this ? too much rain and sloppy hill gardening ..


  6. Watch earthlings the movie its free on youtube.
    Convince gov to let everyone have an acre of free tax free fertile land that they can live on and grow a food forest on

  7. yeah but I can't even watch past the first 1 min cause he sounds like he is reading a book to a dolphin. these are words, these are movements. o make it stop.

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