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Water in the desert QUESTIONS!!

 
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I just was scrolling through the community garden startups on one of those kickstarter websites. One purposed community garden would be in the sonoran desert. They said the only problem they have is they need to figure out the most sustainable way to pump water from the underground aquifer that was on the property. I wonder what other people think of drinking up the underground water, especially in the desert... Is it inherently unsustainable to do this?... If rather then drilling, you collect rainwater, does that deplete the streams and rivers downhill???
Thanks!!
 
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Devan Wickland wrote: I wonder what other people think of drinking up the underground water, especially in the desert... Is it inherently unsustainable to do this?



It's not something i would do. My preferred approach is to use natives or trees from other parts of the world with similar climate. In this way to bring shade and organic matter using only what falls from the sky. However, if the idea is to make a quick start to get this shade using groundwater, and then a year or three later stop using groundwater, that could be sustainable.
 
Steve Farmer
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Devan Wickland wrote:If rather then drilling, you collect rainwater, does that deplete the streams and rivers downhill???
Thanks!!



Depends. From observation and guesswork, most of what falls on my land evaporates or runs to gullies that lead to the sea. So im happy to take it. If you live well inland  and your downhill neighbours are making sensible use of your runoff then you need to be making even more sensible use of it. If you establish soil and shade then perhaps taking the runoff now will benefit your downhill neighbours in a year or two. On balance, if you can use it productively, and are allowed to, then take it.
 
gardener
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When starting a greening the desert project the first thing to address is water retention not drill and irrigate.
The way it sounds, these are people who have done no research and thus have no real understanding of the true issues of a greening the desert project.
When you take that approach, not only are you going to deplete the ground water but you are dooming yourself to failure.

While I wish anyone good luck, in the deserts you have to have the knowledge base that allows you to improve water retention/ gathering before you can start the work that needs to come before you plant.
Trees can work but you have to know which ones to start out with and you need to know where to  build the water retaining structures so that when it does rain you can gather all of it possible and keep it in the soil.
Today there are several good books, by people that have and are doing the restoration of deserts and that can give you the leg up needed so that you can succeed.

Neal Spackman is one of the leaders in this field and he has developed great desert garden areas that gather water and hold it at the levels where plants can reach it and he did this in an area that got .18 inch of rain in an 8 year period.
This proves it can be done but it is a lot of work, you have to have soil structure building available, water gathering constructions, the right plant materials and a fairly large work force.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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I agree with the ideas already expressed and would add an explanation.  Salt and evaporation are major problems when dealing with irrigation using "exotic" water  (not rainwater). Geoff used small amounts of exotic water (1/10 the norm) in the establishment of some of his better trees, but even that was discontinued after the trees were established. BTW, that irrigation was applied as a drip under loads of mulch to prevent evaporation (which concentrates the salt.)

 "A desert is a flood waiting to happen", and using that understanding it's easy to see that  earthworks soaking rain water in are both adding to the water reserve and desalinating the soil at the same time.

Again, deep mulch and shade are primary initial considerations to prevent evaporation.
 
Devan Wickland
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🌻 I definitely agree with these ideas. I would not want to get ground water if I could just collect rain. Perfect rain! And I think it's true that trees and plants and mulches accumulate water by nature and  many gallons of rainwater could be collected simply by mulching in the desert. I like this figure in a low water use plant book.
image.jpg
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
 
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I'm in the Sonoran desert myself, so from that perspective.

OMG, yes, it is completely unsustainable here in the Sonoran desert. The main city that exists here used so much water it basically used up the water in the water table to the point it could not be pumped and was REFILLED from the colorado river...and then no regulations were put in place to curb future use and it is slowly being used more than it is being filled, every year. There are designated areas in the Sonoran desert now that you can't drill wells, because the people who HAVE wells have no caps on usage, and they just keep using up as much as they want. It's honestly pretty horrible. BUt - the Sonoran desert gets the most rainfall of almost any desert in the world, and it is completely possible to harvest rainwater here pretty well from roofs and such, as long as people don't decide to use it on gardens that use really water intensive vegetables, you know? Most of the water that falls in the towns does not get put back into the ground, so it is 'lost' either way.  

But as to depleting streams and rivers - it's kind of too late at this point. There used to be year round streams and one major river in my area of the desert, decades ago. Irrigation dried them all up within a decade or two of white settlers showing up, as I understand it. I don't know of a single body of flowing water that runs year round here, anymore.  

Collecting water and putting it back in the ground would help a lot, though.


On the positive side though - some areas, like around Tucson, have a lot of really water-aware folks who are trying hard to help put more water back into the aquifers. Activists managed to get composting toilets to be legal in houses, they managed to get an easy way for townspeople on the downhill sides of roads to cut out slots in the curbs so they could collect the rainwater from the road in planted areas on the edges of the road, or have round abouts sunken in with green growing things that collect the water. And the city made a recent law that requires all medians for future projects to include water collecting aspects so that they collect water from the roads as well.

so while these gardening folks seem unaware, at least they seem to be more in the minority of the groups in the Sonoran desert who are trying to get change made.
 
master pollinator
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shauna carr wrote:

But as to depleting streams and rivers - it's kind of too late at this point.



I don't believe it is too late.  From what I have seen of the work of others who have restored watersheds, all the rivers could be restored in a period of about ten years, if people bothered to do it.

 
shauna carr
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

shauna carr wrote:

But as to depleting streams and rivers - it's kind of too late at this point.



I don't believe it is too late.  From what I have seen of the work of others who have restored watersheds, all the rivers could be restored in a period of about ten years, if people bothered to do it.



Ah, point - I agree that we may be able to restore some of the water with work!  I  just meant that at this point, there aren't any rivers or streams that people would be irrigating from, you know?
 
bob day
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When Bill talks about the sonoran desert, he asks the question what does the word sonoran mean.

It comes from sonorous- full of sound, and the sound was of the many rivers rushing to the sea.  removing trees did in the rivers in the recent past.  He uses examples- the last giant beaver was taken in Tucson(1890 I think), the Pima Indians ate huge cutthroat trout.....

I believe one of the main tree species was the cottonwood, and he points out that the saguaro cactus needs the shade of the forest to regenerate, and without a forest around it it will go away also, so the remnants of that forest are still there..

The point is,  that to undo the damage is possible without worrying about the idiots pumping water faster than it is being returned. and wherever you start will become "headwaters, but ridges with tall tree bands are especially effective in creating the orographic lift mentioned earlier, so such a massive undertaking would get good results starting there.  Planting trees everywhere ("the man who planted trees") is also a good idea, but arroyos at their heads would likely be the easiest place to start. rock walls(gabions) to slow the flood and if you can keep the young trees alive- planted right after the flood-- in a few years, they will become a biological barrier that will start to spread out from there.  It would likely be good to study those water flows and and find the defensible places where trees could be started.

He also points out that at this stage small actions will generate large returns.  walking around in the rain watching water flows, moving a rock to divert water down a gopher hole, or digging a small ditch to move water to natural storage areas are strategies that will give large returns for energy put forward.

One other likely answer may come from Bill's ideas around associations and incorporations. Establish your non profit so you can take tax deductible contributions, get like minds organized.  Buy up distressed land and organize communities around it.  

Bill's course from 1983 (on mp3 files for about 40$) has lots of inspirational directives for organizing at this level. Become a political and economic force that persists after you are gone to secure a project of this magnitude.
remember , his actual trust documents and procedures will need some adjustments according to local laws, but it is never too early to start to organize and figure out a path.  If you are serious about this goal, it is certainly a worthy one, but it will not happen overnight, although if the stars align it may happen faster than you expect.

Just remember the axiom, if you're not having fun you've got the design wrong.
 
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Working on it for 3 yrs now sonooran desert//no well 5 acres..lots of hard work but we are getting it done.
Right now just planting grden-monsoon coming in month or so so use very little water have 12,00 in primary cistern//holds 18,000///over a dozen young fruit trees all in desert swales///[NO RUNOFF LEAVES PROPERTY] keylines on down hill  [west and north] property lines countour desert swales everywhere on property..constantly mulching all we can//swales really place water at bottom at a ratio of 12 to 1 if we get a 1 inch storm we have 1 foot in swales and after 2 and 1/2 years it is really becoming obvious...we now have chickens and actually 2 young calves to help soil work etc...
LAND IS CHEAAP aND IT CAN BE DONE/
 
bob day
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It's good to hear from your personal experience how well this water management system can work.

It's all about reaching the tipping point and getting enough people practicing this to restore the devastated landscapes.

What sort of cistern do you have? 18k is a great number, by contrast I only have 1k in a cistern, and a bunch more in ponds, but then va is a whole different rainfall.  I would like to put in a higher capacity cistern at some point though just to make sure.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

shauna carr wrote:

But as to depleting streams and rivers - it's kind of too late at this point.



I don't believe it is too late.  From what I have seen of the work of others who have restored watersheds, all the rivers could be restored in a period of about ten years, if people bothered to do it.



for those who haven't been to Tucson or Phoenix, don't underestimate the amount of work that would be required to reverse the man-made alterations to water flow there.  The cities have been paved over such that every drop of water is designed to funnel into "river washes", which are concrete-lined ditches that flood for an hour after a storm, then run dry again.  You would quite literally need to jack-hammer hundreds of miles of concrete and re-engineer the entire urban environment, to induce the rivers to flow year-round once again.  There are entire neighborhoods that would need to be condemned because they were built right on top of historical flood plains

 
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Devan Wickland wrote: I just was scrolling through the community garden startups on one of those kickstarter websites. One purposed community garden would be in the sonoran desert. They said the only problem they have is they need to figure out the most sustainable way to pump water from the underground aquifer that was on the property. I wonder what other people think of drinking up the underground water, especially in the desert... Is it inherently unsustainable to do this?... If rather then drilling, you collect rainwater, does that deplete the streams and rivers downhill???
Thanks!!



Like well water? Majority of Wyoming is on well water. I guess I don't think anything of it at all. I try to catch rain to recharge the aquifer but the corn farm down the road just wastes that away anyway.
 
master pollinator
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Davis Tyler wrote:You would quite literally need to jack-hammer hundreds of miles of concrete and re-engineer the entire urban environment, to induce the rivers to flow year-round once again.  There are entire neighborhoods that would need to be condemned because they were built right on top of historical flood plains



Sounds like a plan. The modern urban environment as a whole is in need of a redesign. In places where it's not a constantly retrofitted 19th century grid pattern ill-suited to modern mass transit or cars, there simply is no pattern, only people with money trying to make more by cheaping out on things, from building "houses" from matchsticks and paper to encouraging the poor to build houses on flood plains.

I don't see the problem. Automation is slowly but surely putting people out of work. It will become the job of government to guarantee that there is work for people to do, along with a living income. It seems to me that there should be increasing numbers of people to plant trees, dig swales, and rip up ill-conceived Army Corps of Engineers works.

Now if only something could be done about that Hoover Dam monstrosity...

-CK
 
cougina machek
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mr day my cistern is a covered above grd pool
 
shauna carr
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bob day wrote:...He also points out that at this stage small actions will generate large returns. /quote]

One nice thing about the Tucson and surrounding areas is that we actually have a very strong and connected water conservation community that has been doing just that.

They got together and managed to get the city gov't to allow any home to replace water using toilets with composting ones, with the correct permits (which aren't too hard to get, i understand). They managed to make it legal to be able to cut holes in curbs and set up areas next to the side walk with shading plants that are watered solely from the runoff water from the street. They have been encouraging center pieces in roundabouts to be planted and sunken slightly, to collect the rainwater there. And they managed to get passed a new law on future public roadworks so that they incorporate water harvesting (such as planted medians that are sunken to collect the rainwater). They also have a program for reimbursing up to $1000-$2000 for folks who put in water harvesting set ups or cisterns in their yards, as long as they have taken a free class offered by the city.

Brad Lancaster, the Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands author, lives in Tucson so as you can imagine, he has a big influence. :-)  
Where he lives is actually rather amazing - craptastic area, that he started planting and collecting water in, and it worked so well his neighbors began to do it  as well and the entire area is pretty amazing right now.

He has a great video, about our water supply in the Sonoran desert, that actually pretty much shows exactly why collecting water in this area would have been a better idea for the garden in question
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQrZtG-LVg

 
bob day
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great video, thanks for sharing it.

Is that a plastic pool liner you're using for the cistern?
 
this is supposed to be a surprise, but it smells like a tiny ad:
One million tiny ads for $25
https://permies.com/t/94684/million-tiny-ads
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