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What are some uses for an arroya (dry creek/wash) that periodically morphs into a raging river?

 
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My property has a deep (10 ft) and wide (20ft) wash that cuts through it. When there is rain, massive amounts of water flow down out of the mountains, filling this dry creek with a raging river (often called a flash flood). It got me thinking what one could do with such a land feature -- that is, periodic access to vast amounts of fast-flowing water.

I'm new to permaculture, so I would appreciate any thoughts. Has anyone heard of possible creative uses for this? If nothing else, it wouldn't hurt to harvest some of the water with a pump, to irrigate other parts of the property. But I'd like to think about it in terms of bringing the potential for more vibrant life around the wash on the property. In a way, it seems like a truly incredible resource, but its power and infrequency make conventional options seem difficult or risky.
 
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I have two arroyos that meet in the middle of our place!  Here's what I'm doing:

https://permies.com/t/51421/Creek-repair-brush-dams

https://permies.com/t/53556/Creek-repair-rock-dams
 
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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Seems like a perfect spot for an in-law suite to me..

I can picture soaking that water into large scale hugels once you convince it to hold still.

I'm not sure that the usual mantra if 'slow and spread' is practical..  that sounds like a lot of force.

I wonder if one could cut channels back uphill, deep enough to slope down, leading to holding ponds; the water would hopefully mostly rush past rather than all flowing into and then back out of said ponds...

Got any equipment on hand?

 
pollinator
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Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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Have a look at some of the work done with rockwork including gabions and Zuni bowl faces:

https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/11/2/381/htm

http://www.azwpf.gov/Grant_Project_Reports/documents/FinalReport09-163WPF.pdf

This project in an urban arroyo used rockwork, brush and plantings:

http://www.azwpf.gov/Grant_Project_Reports/documents/08-160WPFAtturburyWashRiparianStewardshipProject.pdf

Slowing and spreading the flow is what you want to do. Dissipate the energy and the floodwaters will drop their sediment, which raises the downcut stream profile. Depending on what your property is like, you may be able to create an ak-chin field environment at the mouth of the canyon.
 
pollinator
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Location: Dolan Springs, AZ 86441
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Dillon Nichols wrote:Seems like a perfect spot for an in-law suite to me..

I can picture soaking that water into large scale hugels once you convince it to hold still.

I'm not sure that the usual mantra if 'slow and spread' is practical..  that sounds like a lot of force.

I wonder if one could cut channels back uphill, deep enough to slope down, leading to holding ponds; the water would hopefully mostly rush past rather than all flowing into and then back out of said ponds...

Got any equipment on hand?



Using hugels in areas of high water flow and a high slope is a recipe for disaster. The organic matter tends to float downstream when the water gets underneath the structure.

If you use organic materials, be sure that it is a "leaky" check dam that is well secured, or it will simply float away.

If possible, and if necessary, you could also construct wide terrace-like swales along the contour lines of the walls of the arroyos to direct the excess water from the area where water collects (behind the check dam) to the downslope areas where you would like the water to end up.

Make sure that the swales are nearly level to keep the velocity of the water transport slow. The swales can even be used to promote the growth of erosion-preventing plants in the walls of the arroyos.
 
pollinator
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
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I did desert wilderness restoration in just these types of places because arroyos are common places for illegal ATV use. A common seed adaptation strategy in the desert are seeds that float easily and tend to congregate in places where water settles. This naturally stabilizes soil with taprooted plants that can withstand remarkable extremes from dry for years to submerged in a torrent. If you were to create or exagerrate such locations that deposit these seeds with gabbions and depressions to slow and disperse the water, and make it travel farther while still having somewhere to overflow, you will get naturally adapted seeds deposited for you in silt that drops where water is slowed.
 
pollinator
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Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,500' Zone 8a
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I have one that runs across the back of my land.
It has become blocked with debris which floods my neighbors to the east.
Honestly, I’m afraid to mess with it.

Another thing to remember is there might be restrictions on using the water or even messing around with the area around it.
Drainage easements are very common.
 
Mark Kissinger
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:I have one that runs across the back of my land.
It has become blocked with debris which floods my neighbors to the east.
Honestly, I’m afraid to mess with it.



That looks like a lot of water for such a sunny day in Arizona!

How much of your land feeds into your wash? Do you have water in the wash all the time?

You'll need to slow, spread, and sink as much of those downpours into your land before it runs off into your wash.

Do you control both sides of the wash? If not, you will need to coordinate with your neighbor to develop a master flood event plan.
 
Mark Kissinger
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:I have one that runs across the back of my land.
It has become blocked with debris which floods my neighbors to the east.
Honestly, I’m afraid to mess with it.

Another thing to remember is there might be restrictions on using the water or even messing around with the area around it.
Drainage easements are very common.



What happened to the picture?

With as much water that was in the picture, you will want to get in touch with the state or county civil engineer to see what they say about the restrictions. The Water Management Group in Tucson is another place to go for more specific advice.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
pollinator
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Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,500' Zone 8a
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Mark Kissinger wrote:

Wayne Mackenzie wrote:I have one that runs across the back of my land.
It has become blocked with debris which floods my neighbors to the east.
Honestly, I’m afraid to mess with it.

Another thing to remember is there might be restrictions on using the water or even messing around with the area around it.
Drainage easements are very common.



What happened to the picture?

With as much water that was in the picture, you will want to get in touch with the state or county civil engineer to see what they say about the restrictions. The Water Management Group in Tucson is another place to go for more specific advice.


I have a drainage easement. I’m not allowed to reroute or modify it.

I also would point out that any modification that leads to flooding would lead to massive civil suits.
It drains the Chiricahua’s.
Most of it runs across my neighbors to the back, but yes, I have large parts that run completely across my land including part of a big “bowl” that was cut to reduce the plugging up of the culverts down the way.
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Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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Back to basics perhaps: depending on the size of your property and its watershed, suggest you do a Google search on 'Keyline Design' or 'Keyline Water Management'.

There's a need to slow that water down and use it to greater advantage without affecting neighbours. In fact, slowing it down can only benefit your soil and overall potential.

The following link however provides substantial information on the topic that may assist you:

Permaculture Research Institute

 
Wayne Mackenzie
pollinator
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Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,500' Zone 8a
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Lucky for me I’m at the highest point and have a berm across the back.
My soil is fast draining and deep unlike most of the land around here. I believe it’s from past flooding over decades if not longer.

It’s 18 acres.
 
Mark Kissinger
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:Lucky for me I’m at the highest point and have a berm across the back.
My soil is fast draining and deep unlike most of the land around here. I believe it’s from past flooding over decades if not longer.

It’s 18 acres.



The Rainwater Harvesting methods in Brad Lancaster's 2 volume set of books do not cause flooding, but merely capture any precipitation that falls on your land, slowing it down so that is soaked in, instead of running off. These methods, properly applied, should not violate any of your drainage easements because you are not adding to the surface runoff that enters the stream, and the water that does enter the stream does so underground,  so it seeps into the stream at a much slower, "metered" rate. For best results, make sure you include plenty of trees, native grasses, and forbs with deep roots to absorb the rainfall that is allowed to soak into your ground instead of running off.

How much water comes from upstream of your property? Is the troublesome debris that is causing the problem coming from your property, or from further upstream?

Have you tested the infiltration rate of your soil? What sort of vegetation is on the property? Do you have pictures of the land? The picture of the water doesn't really tell us what is going on. You also mentioned culverts. Pictures of them, showing their relationship to the land around them, would also be useful.
 
Phil Stevens
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Wayne, is that Ash Creek in the photo? No wonder you've got such good soil. My cousins' family used to live next to the elementary school and I spent big chunks of my summers there when I was a teenager. The north edge of their property grew trees about twice as well as the front part along the highway, all because the soil got better as you got closer to the creekbed.
 
pollinator
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What is your climate? Biological methods of river bank/bed stabilisation might help. If you don't get frosts you might look into using vetiver.

How much of the upstream catchment do you have access to? Much of the work on a channelised flow like that is best approached by starting upstream and working to slow and spread the surface flows. If you have no control then you might be better off just not messing with it.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
pollinator
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Phil Stevens wrote:Wayne, is that Ash Creek in the photo? No wonder you've got such good soil. My cousins' family used to live next to the elementary school and I spent big chunks of my summers there when I was a teenager. The north edge of their property grew trees about twice as well as the front part along the highway, all because the soil got better as you got closer to the creekbed.


Close, it’s Turkey Creek.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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The vegetation varies from year to year.
Always get the grass though.
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Wayne Mackenzie
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Bryce, where are you located?
Your description of the wash sounds like Turkey creek.
 
Tyler Ludens
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The best resource I have found for information about managing rainwater in dry climates is Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume 2 by Brad Lancaster.  There's also a fair amount of info on his website: https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/
 
Mark Kissinger
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:The vegetation varies from year to year.
Always get the grass though.



Great photos. Are they from this Spring? I'm guessing the first one (showing the mountains in the background) is looking East, away from Sunzona towards the mountains?

In the water photo, is the overbank flooding in the photo all on your property? If so, when it gets dryer, perhaps you could "sculpt" your property to actually allow the water to flood even more of your land. Think of it as guilt-free "free irrigation" of your property. since the flooding may be "natural" forming swales to spread that flooding out over more of your acreage may not violate any water laws because you would not have messed with the actual channel of the stream. The key idea is that YOU would control where the expected flooding will end up. In a dry climate, any extra water should be considered as a blessing, IMHO.

Does Turkey Creek run across the northern or southern portion of your property? If you can, a screenshot of your property on Google Maps using the 3D mode could give us an idea of how the property is oriented.

You don't seem to have any overly steep slopes, which means using some swales or keyline plowing could be useful to capture some more rainfall. As I recall, the water laws probably lay claim to the water in the creek, so you probably can not divert any of it to irrigate your land.

It looks really lush in the photos, although there seem to be some small patches in some areas where the pasture cover is a bit thinner. Are you running any cattle on the property?  You could see some improvement in your pasture if you could integrate the livestock management techniques used by ranchers and "grass farmers", Gabe Brown and Greg Judy, that I have mentioned in other posts in the "Greening of the Desert" forum on this site. (Let me know if you want a re-post of the links to their YouTube videos).

You obviously get more precipitation where you are than what I get on my property, near Kingman. Do you have some dry-season photos for comparison?

You have some beautiful land and nature seems to want to irrigate it for you. My ideas are just spitballing. I hope my thought process is useful to you in deciding what you want to do on your land.
 
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When I think of "raging river", I see the creek that runs through my property, which can move 2000 pound boulders and 80 foot tall pine trees roots and all downstream in a major flood... so the picture of a brisk stream flowing peacefully through grassland is incongruous to me

But the OP's description sounds more like my situation than later posters'. Without access to modify the headwaters, there is nothing that can be done unless there is access to large rocks, in the several hundred pound range, and lots of them. Large tree trunks in plenty might also be effective at making control structures that will not be washed away in floods.

If water rights are not involved, the idea of adding swales to conduct bankful flooding away to soak into the ground may be viable, although my experience with similar features is that the access from the streambed to swales would need to be reestablished after every flood, as the water will deposit sand or gravel or other debris in all secondary channels as the water recedes, leaving only the main channel(s) for flow.
 
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