Written by Doug Crouch
Before ever hearing of this water technology in the Carbon Farming Course from Brad Lancaster, I had actually seen its benefits just down the road from where I taught my first PDC in Coastal Portugal in 2009. When walking past one particular property just up the street from the school where the course took place was a jungly mass of plants, biodiverse and layered. In Portugal gardens and tree crops in yards is quite common site but the density and forest like approach to gardening is rarely seen. However at this elderly woman’s really beautiful land was a curb cut allowing for extra water to pour into this
wet/dry Mediterranean climate context helping to build such a wonderful system. We toured her site before and during the course to help show what a 30 plus year old food forest looks like. Tree crops and vines abounded with patches here and there of vegetable gardens showing lots of edge in how the place was structured. Chickens foraged in the understory helping to create a complete system with the veggie gardens fenced off. The students delighted at this opportunity to see her piece and when asked about her unconventional gardening style in comparison to other typical Portuguese gardens she chuckled and left us with an infamous quote as she starred up towards the Sintra Mountain in the background, “nobody water the mountain, nobody weeds the mountain.” Simply she had learned from the forest and thought her friends style of gardening was quite ridiculous with all the labor created. The Sintra mountain and its park, just outside of Lisbon, are a great example of regeneration as the bald mountain one time had been reforested 170 years ago. Shortly after seeing Brad’s presentation I was also looking back on some pictures I had taken from the year before as I was preparing teaching material. In my travels in Portland one day with friend Marisha Auerbach, fellow Permaculture teacher from Ohio, I had seen how the city was trying to lessen its problem of storm water runoff that plagues much of the degrading North American infrastructure. They simply made a hole in the curb and diverted it into a basin with appropriate plants that can handle this inundation in the prolonged winter rainy months but can deal with the summer dry. The broad streets provide a huge catchment area and contribute to the degradation of water quality to local streams and bigger bodies of water like the Columbia river and its outlet into the Pacific. However some of this is mitigated as these interlinking beds can help to lock up hydrocarbons through humus, the stable carbon compound that builds from sugars being pumped into root zones and the breakdown of carbon material. The idea with this design is that the curb cut allows water to flow in and then the beds are interlinked so it cascades from one bed to another. As the basins are overloaded it simply overflows its spillway and goes back into the street and storm water overflow. Simply running through the beds helps to deposit organic material and some interaction with biology is better than nothing. The picture above shows the pathway of cascading as it is covered with a metal grate and also the overflow back out. These systems are simple and need to be maintained but can be a source of city employment for sure. Where does the money come from to do this though? Well surely less fines from the EPA helps as degrading and overloaded combined sewage and storm water drainage systems often incur these fines like in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Also improved water quality allows for higher tax revenues from well developed water fronts. Furthermore, other cascading affects happen like improved drinking water quality and less repair on flashy streams that are often flooding which devalues property and causes insurance claims. There are many reasons to implement such systems and can be an urban approach to completing the hydrological cycle.
Written by Doug Crouch
Header Art by Anita Tirone