In Methods of Design & Patterns, Water

This last weekend our Spring PDC class spent a whole day learning about all aspects of water including grey water, black water, rain water, and storm water. We learned how to put all of these elements to productive use within the permaculture landscape.

Water is one of our most precious resources and, 9 times out of 10, we treat it as a waste product or problem that we have to get rid of. Its this mentality that is creating scarcity in all of our living systems. Water is central to life and most of present day design concentrates and disposes of water which means we are designing our human settlements for death. The only other landscape that concentrates and disposes of water are man-made deserts (former agricultural regions like the fertile crescent). Permaculture always focuses on life therefore water is the first thing we consider in any design. To accomplish this, we design using a certain order of priorities:

1. Water

2. Access

3. Structures

That is, figure out how water is moving through the landscape and respect that the water has likely been flowing this way for millenia. If this is the case, planting a basement or any element that does not mix with water is likely a type one error. Once we determine how we’re going to harvest and harmonize with the existing water flows on the land, we can then look at where to install access (roads, paths, etc). These pathways will be easy to located as they will likely follow the water harvesting features on contour. Once we have water and access figured out there will only be a few spots to place structures. If we get the placement right, we can supply water to the house, eliminate the need for sub pumps, build in thermal belts to reduce energy consumption, orient the building to the sun, and quickly establish windbreaks on the water harvesting features without water trucks to keep them alive!

A real life example of using natural patterns to determine water access and structures can be seen in the way that old Australian road systems where built.

Australians noticed that sheep hate wet feet as it causes foot rot. In order to avoid wet feet they would create trails through the landscape that allowed them to keep their feet dry. In other words they only walked on dry land. Recognizing this, the Australians built roads on dry land, which cost a lot less to build and maintain in the long run.

On Sunday we visited the property of Ursula (our client) so the students could get their design brief. A site visit is critical in any permaculture design. There are thousands of details that you can not derive from a map, you just have to go there! The students interviewed Ursula and asked some fantastic questions.

This weekend we will be blitzing an urban lot to install 5 wicking beds. On Sunday we will be learning how to re-mediate soils and survey landscapes using 5 survey tools; water levels, transit and laser transit, a-frame level and eye levels. Surveying is key to understanding water harvesting, and water harvesting is key to understanding how to fix the water cycle to re-mediate soils. It all fits together like lego.

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