Cistern Saturation

We’re all about resiliency here at Leafhopper Farm. A most recent installations to help combat our hot, dry summers is featured above. This 20,000 gallon cistern is holding more than just water- our hopes in jump-starting a food forest starts with saturation. Irrigation of young plantings during the summer on a full sun exposed south facing hillside means drought. If the intact temperate rain-forest were still present, the hillside would retain greater rainfall and bank it in the soil. This aquifer would then safeguard the forest in long term drought. Without the forest, rain cascades down into the valleys, flooding the farms and taking nutrients from the hills where we’re trying to grow things too.

Since the warm up in temperatures, we’re filling the cistern, raw, from our well. Raw, meaning bypassing the filtration system and pulling directly from the ground, which is fine for irrigation purposes. We’ve recently received our raw well tests from the lab, and the levels are reading safe and clear (meaning no biological contamination or industrial pollution). We could drink the well water raw, but continued development by humans, including lawns maintained with chemical treatments prescribed like medication on a landscape already stripped bare by our consumption, means eventually, pollutants will contaminate our drinking water.

The other danger of clear-cutting to our established development, like the farm, is wells going dry. In past drought runs, and we’re still in them, wells in the hill country have gone dry. We have a second well dug because of ground water levels dropping with the loss of so much rainwater. Why? Because there was nothing on the hillsides to saturate with rain, so all that water ran down into the valleys, causing 100 year floods every 10… now 5 years. Without vegetation to saturate the rain, holding it on the hillside to sink in, the land drys out. Saturating the landscape with human habitation is contributing too. Mass roof spans send water into torrents which sheet onto the ground forming currents.

In most smart building, the water is directed to a useful place, like a catchment basin to then allow the fast pooling water a place to soak in. Many designs simply pipe the runoff a few feet away from the building and into the landscape, maybe a drainage ditch or curbside runoff to a street drain. This sends that badly needed replenishment for the ground water, and water table, into the ocean, or an expensive sewage treatment facility which uses a lot of chemicals to “fix” the water before releasing it back into the rivers towards the coast. To fix this problem, we need to create saturation.

Because Leafhopper Farm now has this great cistern, we can flood irrigate larger swale systems, allowing slow seep into the soil where the water can be taken up by the trees and shrubs planted below. Our orchard will be easy to deep water, and the ground water from the cistern will nurture the restoration of a canopy to shade and protect the hillside, storing and utilizing more water on site, rather than loosing it to the oceans in runoff.

But we’re filling it with the well right now, right? Yes- and in future, the roof of the Mongolian ger (yurt) shelter will connect in to help fill the tank, but until the next stage of building here on the farm, we don’t yet have enough roof catchment to fill the tank, so we use the well in the wet season to make the total 20,000. That is the minimum water needed to flood our swales several times during the summer for watering needs of the food forest.

The cistern is built by MARS water tanks and shipped from GEI Works to Leafhopper Farm last Fall. We spent a lot of time planning and preping space to make sure the pillow tank would like it’s new home, and fill successfully. After some initial challenged with logistics and weather, we are now filling our tank to water the recent orchard planting in our largest swale field. Mom’s Orchard will produce apples, pears, and cherries, along with edible and medicinal plants with a focus on native species like silverweed. It will also become a place of silviculture study.

The tank was partially paid for by my Dad, rooting another big system of the landscape to family and the generosity and love we share. Leafhopper Farm is cultivating a legacy of stewardship, the tending of space in restoration; fostering awareness of what it means to be human in the natural world.

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