Water Trailing

a full drainage ditch on north property line

The north fence line is the highest point on the land. All water coming down hill from above us is caught along the edge of the driveway in a ditch and funneled to the first of a few pipes which go under roads to the pond. This redirect keeps the access points for vehicles clear while giving the water a place to go that is direct and helpful for water catchment.

drainage ditch water meeting up hill runoff shooting into 1st pipe

At peak flood, the flow and volume is very noticeable. I’ve taken the time to trail the water along our landscape to show how simple ditch and pipe systems can manage flow with smart design. Gradual slopes and gently curved straight shots like the one below encourage the water to move with conviction without eroding away the soil.

1st pipe outflow meeting driveway runoff

We received 5″ in 24 hrs and the hydrology of the property moved in ways I’ve not seen in the five years of living here. Many of the drain pipes were at capacity, some even squirting out like mini fountains. It was a great day to make observations and note any serious erosion issues. During floods, water exaggerates its behavior, making it easier to spot places water collects, goes under ground, resurfaces, and generally, where the water is headed across the property. This comes in handy when planning, everything from building structures to planting the right plant for the right moisture needs.

water squirting out of a drainage pipe into downhill flow

As water moves downhill, it erodes some of the soil under the compulsion of hydraulic mass. Creating catchment basins along the trail of water offers the liquid a place to slow down and seep in. Some of the sediment carried down hill will drop into these basins, filling them with rich topsoil that can later be scooped out for use in the gardens during the summer. The basins can either be an end point for flow, or pass the water along through a pipe, or another ditch. We have used pipes to send water under the roads without impeding vehicle movement or flow.

downhill flow catchment basin into pipe #2

The basin spots will be planted with moisture seeking species like willow or cattail. Both of these native plants provide material, medicine, and food. The basins are also havens for our amphibians, offering shelter and a place to lay eggs. In late summer, these areas will be dried up, but for the wet season, they offer valuable habitat.

another catchment basin from pipe #2 into pipe #3

Heavy rains bring many surprises, and one of my favorites is the reveal of springs. Water will literally start bubbling up out of the ground. I enjoy finding these momentary outflows, as they inform me about where water is flowing just under the surface around the property. If a spring is located in an area where I can catch it to water the livestock, I stake the place and put a bucket there for harvesting. The surface water is mapped on my ever growing property study and noted for future planting. Usually, native plants are already indicating the growing conditions and, once you train your eye, you can see so much more detail around seasonal sun and water by what’s growing there.

a runoff spring bursting out of the ground

Roof runoff is a great source of water collection and redirection, and most people hang gutters with send off pipes that encourage the water into sewers. At Leafhopper Farm, our gutters send water to cisterns or the pond. A few surface channels filled with river rock move water away from building foundations and straight into the pond. Some seasonal springs are strong enough in the winter to need directional ditching out of paths and the driveway. The channel featured below runs continuously for three seasons and is mostly spring fed with some roof runoff.

another runoff ditch partially fed by roof runoff

The most impressive water action happens at the final outflow pipe into our pond. In flood stage, this water explodes into a four foot waterfall, cascading onto some large rocks and splashing giddily onto the pond’s surface.

outflow pipe into pond

Willow has been planted around the cascade to hold the surrounding bank. Rocks amplify the sound of falling water, while preventing the direct impact of the water eroding a hole in the side bank.

outflow pipe #3 raging into pond

The pond is a huge catchment basin, which does not dry out in the summer, creating a year round drinking source for wildlife and habitat for aquatic creatures like amphibians and fish. Many beneficial insects like dragonflies will lay eggs in this water and continue a crucial lifecycle for the greater food chain. Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron hunt here and catch the baby goldfish and koi. The fish population seems to be stable at this time and with the pond nearly doubling in size overnight, the fish have huge as of yet unexplored habitat to enjoy.

pond passing high water mark of 2016

The swayles are also thriving in the water catchment department. A ditch does not have to direct water away, but can instead bank the water into the soil where it collects. These swayles were dug ever so slightly off contour to encourage an even spread of water collection in the ditch. Here you see the pool moving out along the line, slowly filling across the entire field.

swale catchment

As the thaw continues, more water will be moving through soil, coupled with more rain to give the land a good soaking before the start of spring. This will benefit all the new growth already budding out across the land.

blueberry bushes, flower cloche, and full swayle

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