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9.34 inches of annual rain is enough. Dryland strategies  RSS feed

 
                            
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I have the opportunity to buy 20 to 40 acres in central Utah for pretty cheap, but it has no water rights. Annual precip is about 9.34 inches. I want to build a house, raise as many things as possible including a family. We also want this to be a beautiful place where people can come to learn more about permaculture, pick their own veggies, and eat at our fresh food restaurant. We think it could also be a great venue for plays, concerts, & conferences.

It is slightly sloped to the North with very light rolling hills, yellow grasses and some greasewood bushes. This is raw, amazing land with four inches of turf/topsoil from thousands of years of grasses. There are some juniper trees not too far away. I can post some pictures. What do you all think? Can a man live on rain alone?

btw: 9.34 inches/year on 20 acres > 5 million gallons
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Jeff Mathias
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Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
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Hi Morganic Farms,

Definitely man can live on rain water alone, for many people it is still the only source of clean drinking and cooking water. However we really need a bit more information. Is 9.34 the average rainfall and over how long of a time period(over a very long time averages can appear to be higher than they actually are)? What is the lowest recorded rainfall in the area in the last 50 years? Also what is the highest? You could include temperatures also (extreme hot and cold can remove a lot of stored moisture). Finally do you get it all at once or spread out over the year?

Be really sure you are ready for this, do as much research as possible first: this research must include extreme water harvesting and storing as well as extreme water reuse.
My initial reaction is 9.34 average is basically true desert conditions, which sounds about right for central Utah so you are definitely going to need to capture and hold every possible bit of water you can if you are going to try. It would not be as critical although close still if we were talking drinking water only, but your other requirements push up your required stored water needs greatly both in and above ground. I assume it is legal to harvest rain water in Utah.

The name escapes me but I believe there is a place in Taos, New Mexico doing similar to what you are thinking but on a larger scale and with similar rainfall. I am sure others will either have the name or can better direct you to similar places and people to help you research.

Jeff
 
Tyler Ludens
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Personally from my own experience of extreme drought, I would avoid purposely moving to a place which gets that little rain.  Keep in mind that number is probably an average, which means some years get less.  This year in Central Texas we've had about 8 inches of rain, in a place which claims to have an average of about 28 inches.  It has been quite heartbreaking.  If I had been prepared for living and gardening in the desert it might be less discouraging.  My main bit of advice is - be prepared for what you're getting into and know that it will be much harder to grow food in such a place than if you bought land where it rains more.  Your 20 - 40 acres will likely have a carrying capacity equal to maybe 1 acre (or less) in a moist region.  In the desert it may take 50 - 100 acres to raise one cow.

A couple relevant links: 

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

http://www.beantreefarm.com/
 
Tyler Ludens
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I feel like my previous post was maybe too discouraging.  I love your beautiful vision, Morganic, and I would love to see it come to fruition.  I think there's an enormous amount of work that needs to be done with dry-climate permaculture, especially considering some changes that appear to be happening with the climate.  The more folks  can demonstrate that it is possible to grow food in the desert in concert with Nature, the better, in my opinion. 
 
maikeru sumi-e
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Morganic Farms wrote:
I have the opportunity to buy 20 to 40 acres in central Utah for pretty cheap, but it has no water rights. Annual precip is about 9.34 inches. I want to build a house, raise as many things as possible including a family. We also want this to be a beautiful place where people can come to learn more about permaculture, pick their own veggies, and eat at our fresh food restaurant. We think it could also be a great venue for plays, concerts, & conferences.

It is slightly sloped to the North with very light rolling hills. Yellow grasses and some greasewood bushes. This is raw, amazing land with four inches of turf/topsoil from thousands of years of grasses. There are some juniper trees not too far away. I can post some pictures. What do you all think? Can a man live on rain alone?

btw: 9.34 inches/year on 20 acres > 5 million gallons


If current trends hold up with increasing precipitation and monsoon weather coming up during the summer, Utah might be much greener than most permies imagine. This year was bizarre but great for the garden. I can't remember it ever so wet or mild. Water, well, that depends heavily on what you plan to do and how you adapt, and I hope what you're facing is nothing like going out to the Salt Flats or St. George. Are you along the mountains?
 
John Polk
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I would suggest a thorough study of your state's water laws.  Some states are so strict that catchment of roof water, or building catchment/storage systems is considered theft of a resource that actually belongs to somebody else.  Determine the restrictions before committing yourself.

If you do have the rights to all water that falls onto your property, then by all means, do not permit any of it to leave your property.  That is not a lot of water, but with the proper infrastructure, you can do a lot with it.  Your good sod layer will help reduce runoff.  I would not remove the sod at the bottom of the property, as that is your last chance to capture the water before it waters your neighbor's property.
 
                            
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I'm in Millard county. Both of my grandpas are/were farmers and I've seen dryland farming produce pretty good fields of winter wheat or alfalfa so I know I can grow something on it. The 9.34 annual is based on a 30 year average (1971-2000) from the NOAA which also gives average highs and lows. http://climate.usurf.usu.edu/reports/data/Ut42_01.pdf

I'm from the area, so I know the climate. Right now, I live in Las Vegas which averages 4.5 inches per year, so double that is still dry, but with mulch and swales and shade can't I 'green the desert'?

I appreciate the encouraging statements. I am no fool and of course I will carefully research and consider everything that I possibly can. There are a thousand reasons it won't work, but since I saw that video 'greening the desert' I can't help but think that it is possible.

The average american household uses nearly 100,000 gallons of water/ year. We would use less than that, being quite conservative with our water use and reusing/refiltering much of it. In order to catch 100,000 gallons I would need an umbrella/funnel that was about 2% of the twenty acres (about 17,175 sq ft or a square that was 131 feet on each side). Also, I would build a tank to hold and store it. That's for household use.

The rest of the land would be ditches and swales and hugelculture and growing alfalfa and other nitrogen fixers for chop and drop, drought tolerant trees and bushes and shrubs, herbs, etc etc etc.

Morgan
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More pictures
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Last two pics. It just happened to be raining the day we went out to see the land.
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maikeru sumi-e
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Morganic Farms wrote:
I'm in Millard county. Both of my grandpas are/were farmers and I've seen dryland farming produce pretty good fields of winter wheat or alfalfa so I know I can grow something on it. The 9.34 annual is based on a 30 year average (1971-2000) from the NOAA which also gives average highs and lows. http://climate.usurf.usu.edu/reports/data/Ut42_01.pdf

I'm from the area, so I know the climate. Right now, I live in Las Vegas which averages 4.5 inches per year, so double that is still dry, but with mulch and swales and shade can't I 'green the desert'?

I appreciate the encouraging statements. I am no fool and of course I will carefully research and consider everything that I possibly can. There are a thousand reasons it won't work, but since I saw that video 'greening the desert' I can't help but think that it is possible.

The average american household uses nearly 100,000 gallons of water/ year. We would use less than that, being quite conservative with our water use and reusing/refiltering much of it. In order to catch 100,000 gallons I would need an umbrella/funnel that was about 2% of the twenty acres (about 17,175 sq ft or a square that was 131 feet on each side). Also, I would build a tank to hold and store it. That's for household use.

The rest of the land would be ditches and swales and hugelculture and growing alfalfa and other nitrogen fixers for chop and drop, drought tolerant trees and bushes and shrubs, herbs, etc etc etc.

Morgan


Ah, you're a little south of me. The land wasn't always as damaged as most people think. Utah still bears a lot of scars from logging and erosion after the fact. Amount of rain doesn't matter as much as what one does with it, IMO.

I like the look of the land, and I think you can do a lot on it with a lot of love and care. You have good grass, some wildlife (which shows the area hasn't been sterilized totally), and it's easy to work and every inch of it is usable. You have more grass on your land than I do on my (dead) orchard up here. Consider that a blessing.

I would suggest checking out water rights and such as others have recommended. The state has a complicated system with water rights.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That low spot or gully might mean you get extra runoff from neighboring land = extra water.  We have two seasonal creeks that drain the land above ours and meet on our place.  I calculated in flood we get 120 acre feet of water per hour crossing the land, or about 39,000,000 gallons per hour.  We have not yet contrived to slow this much water down and get it to stick around longer, but we're planning to apply some rainwater harvesting strategies which might help. 
 
Brenda Groth
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we have had that much this week ! It would be hard for me to live on that, but I'm not used to that dry a climate
 
George Lee
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Damn bro... That's some beautiful land. I was out there (in that vicinity) last year for a month long road trip..

As far as your topic. I say think 'water-holding-capacity' and water catchement. Swales? Water-holding plants/grasses.

It's about how you implement your water-saving strategies. People we're able to live in that area 100 years ago. Things have changed a bit yes, but if you know your approximate rain median fall, you can calculate and take precaution with your implementation of techniques. I don't know how much earthworks you'd like to do, but I think contour and swale may really help. Maybe some initial petrol inputs and earthworks to kickstart things, then back off mechnical input and engage via the human element...

Outta curiousity, what's your hardy zone? Beautiful land man. Nice acquistion. If you ever need help, I'd love to come out.. I just love that area of Utah.

I just remembered something. It IS illegal to harvest rainwater in Utah. I saw a segment on it not too long ago. Ref here: http://utahwaterrights.blogspot.com/2009/05/is-it-illegal-to-harvest-rainwater-in.html I realise this is from '09, but is still relevant?
Peace with you -
 
                                          
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A few things to consider:

1--The county may not give you a building permit for a home unless you show you have a source of water for the home, and the county may not accept stored rain water as a sufficient source.

2--Rain water harvesting is now legal in Utah, but only on a limited basis.  You are limited to a 2500 gallon underground tank.  (http://utahwaterrights.blogspot.com/2010/06/rainwater-harvesting-registration.html)  Anything greater would require a water right.  Trying to capture runoff water, as suggested by H Ludi Tyler, would also require a water right.  I think it would be very difficult to have everything you discuss (home, garden, restaurant, concert venue, etc.) with such limited storage capacity.

If I were you, I would seriously consider buying water rights and drilling a well.  (There may even be water rights associated with the property that the seller is unaware of.)
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Just remember, they have purposefully NOT updated the growing zones map because of how far north the zones have moved. Rainfall averages have similarly been hidden by USDA because of how it plays into warming/change. Though this year is going to be cow-killer cold.

This is on its way to becoming a sandy desert. would go further west young man.....

As texas has said, the middle of the country is supposed to dry out more, especially if the sub-tropical jet doesn't come back. Think you would be better off shooting for something north of Vegas up in the Toiyabe, that area seems to be picking up MORE rain, and the cattle have been pulled off because of drought. Still keeps you away from the Cali crowds, but puts you in earthquake country. Of course, we just had another quake here....4 th this year. Hmmmmmmm
 
Tyler Ludens
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Baserritarra wrote:
  Trying to capture runoff water, as suggested by H Ludi Tyler, would also require a water right. 


Dang, even if you're just using earthworks to capture the runoff in the soil?      I guess people can't practice permaculture in Utah!
 
George Lee
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There was a rural resettlement bill that dropped a few months ago, under veil..

http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/bills/112/hr2112

Have you read on this?

Purports to "re-claim" rural poverty-stricken areas to use however they please. My suspision would be to further the genetically-modified stronghold, on land that really isn't used or cultivated upon. Several agencies are involved including the FDA, and Homeland Security. . . . 

I'm not saying you should be worried, but I think your land may fall under that umbrella. From what I understand, the gov't may try and manipulate desert lands for their agendas and interests.
 
Neal Spackman
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Hey Morganics,

If I can do permaculture on an average of 2.8 inches a year in Saudi Arabia, you can do it in a prairie in Utah. 

Spack
 
Tyler Ludens
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Pneal wrote:

If I can do permaculture on an average of 2.8 inches a year in Saudi Arabia, you can do it in a prairie in Utah. 




If I recall correctly you're building check dams and other earthworks, which Baserritarra says is considered illegally capturing water if one doesn't have water rights. 
 
maikeru sumi-e
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From Baserritarra's link:

"In sum, the Division’s position is that if rainwater is merely controlled or directed (such as with rain gutters and drain piping), then a water right is not needed. However, if rainwater is stored and then later used for some other purpose rather than being released back into the drainage system, then a water right is needed."

Swales can also be used to "control" and "direct" rainwater, cough, cough.
 
Tyler Ludens
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So one could not collect rainwater for drinking?   

 
John Polk
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Hugelkulture beds, following contour would certainly control where the water is collected.  If the sod between the beds was allowed to stay, that would certainly keep more water on the property by avoiding runoff, plus you would have tons of chop and drop organic material for your production beds.

Your rainfall may not be sufficient to keep the entire acreage green, but if you had alternate bands of huglekulture and native sod, I believe your beds would do well.  Those native grasses have survived there for decades.  The question is: if your huglekulture beds are absorbing most of the water, will the grasses still survive?
 
Benjamin Burchall
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If you run up against regulations that limit tank water storage, dig ponds and provide shade for them somehow to reduce evaporation. As someone else already said, planting in swales and other depressions will help. Also, make sure that you raise crops that tolerate or require drought. You'll just frustrate yourself and create way more work than necessary if you try to grow thirsty crops.

It might be helpful to limit your vegetable garden to a small area around the house and get really good with intensive growing methods. Then you can spread out your growing space from there as you can make use of the advancing edge to make the land more hospitable to food growing.

Growing high biomass crops will help a lot. If you want to speed up the ability of your land to hold water, it might be worth dedicating your first few years to doing a lot of composting of that biomass to help build up soil humus. If you start with a small area like I suggested above, this can be very manageable.

If you're very ambitious and have the money for seed and/or plant starts, you could plant big tracks of the land, if not the whole thing, with high biomass plants. (Think big bushes, bamboo, and trees that can be coppiced annually!) Then cut the whole lot down once or twice a year depending on how fast it all grows, chop it up a bit, and make compost piles of it dotted across the land. In other words, turn the place into a compost farm. You could conceivably build the topsoil up by a foot or more in just a matter of 3-5 years and you will have greatly increased the water storage capacity of the land AND created a fertile place for food crops. If some of the biomass crops are food crops, you can eat from the land while you do this. Once it's done you can turn to more of a chop 'n drop method to continue the soil building and reduce your work load.
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
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Fellow Utahn here  

You should check out Cadillac Desert for an interesting discussion on the human obsession with greening deserts.  I know I have it too   My opinion is you take your money and buy less land that has established water rights or access to city water.  Without water rights I really doubt you will be able to have a restaurant or a concert venue.  Also, the semi-official policy regarding water catchment in SLC is to just do it.  Granted our mayor is an environmental planner....
 
                            
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Thanks so much for all of your responses and input, especially benjaminbutton and those of you who can see the possibilities despite the difficulties. Please don't tell me I can't do it because of the obstacles--tell me how I can overcome them. If you have only depressing, negative comments, kindly refrain from responding.

I found some really great scholarly info on dry-land/arid farming here http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010102/01010200frame.html
As far as the legality of harvesting rainwater and setting up earthworks, I'll try to stay as informed as possible, but frankly I'm going to do those things regardless. So the issue to me isn't whether or not it's legal--it's whether or not it's possible. I guess I'm a rebel farmer, but in good company. Besides, no official is going to go way out into the desert and tell a farmer that he can't use the rain that falls on his own land to water his own fields. As long as I don't dig a well without a water right, they'll leave me alone.

The little gullie is no major creek, so nobody will mind or notice what I'm doing with the land. Plus, creating a sponge of my land will contribute to the water table, not detract from it.

Designing a system that will work and support me, my family, my plants, my animals, and my neighborhood indefinitely into the future is to me what permaculture is all about. I am going to make it happen. Not only will there be a restaurant and a concert venue, but eventually there will be a thriving little community with a butcher, a baker, and a candlestickmaker. And that's not just wishful thinking, there's enough rainfall on that 20 acres to support 50 families.



 
Tyler Ludens
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Morganic Farms wrote:
Thanks so much for all of your responses and input, especially benjaminbutton and those of you who can see the possibilities despite the difficulties. Please don't tell me I can't do it because of the obstacles--tell me how I can overcome them.


I suggest you might consider changing the title of your thread,  because the title is a question to which some answers might be "no, I don't think it is enough."  You might also want to put the "no negative or discouraging responses wanted" in the beginning of your first post.   

 
John Polk
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Quite often, the biggest hinderance to accomplishing ambitious plans is getting past all of the naysayers who try to block your way.  The only naysayers you need to be concerned with are the ones working for various government agencies.  The rest are just people who don't think they can do it.

Ambition is a powerful tool.






 
Dennis Mitchell
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I'm in a similar zone, except I've got water. I even tried some dry land tests with out much luck. Chickens attacked it. I'd love to hear someones who is trying. Figure all I needed was a sagebrush that bares fruit. Good luck to ya.
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
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All I'm saying is that there is a reason deserts are sparsely populated.  If you really want to set up a sustainable permaculture site, why don't you look at 10,000 years of agricultural experience and use your hard earned money to buy land that has water?  Many people have tried to grow crops where crops won't grow, and they lost everything for their effort.  I'm not trying to be negative, just realistic.  Best of luck in whatever you do.
 
maikeru sumi-e
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Morganic Farms wrote:
Thanks so much for all of your responses and input, especially benjaminbutton and those of you who can see the possibilities despite the difficulties. Please don't tell me I can't do it because of the obstacles--tell me how I can overcome them. If you have only depressing, negative comments, kindly refrain from responding.


No one will see what you see until it's finally there.

btw, be sure the county/city supports ag. Makes a big difference in what you can and can't do.
 
                              
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I live in a dry climate, not as dry as that, but I'd be wanting to know two things that haven't already been mentioned -

- what does the wind do there? Where I live, we have more rainfall, but a predominant wind that sucks the moisture out of everything. There are solutions to that, so I'm just saying check the prevailing winds as well as the rainfall.

- is the desert there natural or a consequence of farming for a few hundred years? What grew there 500 years ago? Do you have examples of wild land in the area that hasn't been farmed? Or isn't being farmed now?

I think people's 'negative' ideas can be useful, so maybe ask them to reframe them? Someone might know a limitation but not the solution, but you knowing the limitations is very important. Have you put those people off?

I agree that if the Lawton's can green part of Jordan, which is a far harsher landscape then you are considering, then you can permie the land you are looking at. I think how much time, energy and money and skills you have is just as important as all the things about the land and the climate etc. That you have two sets of oldies who've been farming there is a huge asset.
 
Tyler Ludens
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pebble wrote:

I agree that if the Lawton's can green part of Jordan, which is a far harsher landscape then you are considering, then you can permie the land you are looking at.


Don't forget Lawton used some irrigation, not just rainfall.

 
Case Smithey
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Would probably take a serious amount of work to get 50 families on there, but would be very badass to at least try.  I live in SLC area and dream about the situation you are considering.  If I had the opportunity to get that land, I probably would.
 
                            
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boiledfrog wrote:
I even tried some dry land tests with out much luck. Chickens attacked it.


What exactly did you try? Why didn't it work? Chickens? What would you have done differently?
 
                            
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morganism wrote:
Just remember, they have purposefully NOT updated the growing zones map because of how far north the zones have moved. Rainfall averages have similarly been hidden by USDA because of how it plays into warming/change. Though this year is going to be cow-killer cold.

This is on its way to becoming a sandy desert. would go further west young man.....

As texas has said, the middle of the country is supposed to dry out more, especially if the sub-tropical jet doesn't come back. Think you would be better off shooting for something north of Vegas up in the Toiyabe, that area seems to be picking up MORE rain, and the cattle have been pulled off because of drought. Still keeps you away from the Cali crowds, but puts you in earthquake country. Of course, we just had another quake here....4 th this year. Hmmmmmmm


I'm sorry, but your comment confuses me a little. First you say that there is a government conspiracy to hide global warming, and in the very next sentance you claim that "this year is going to be cow-killer cold." Which is it? Hot or cold?

You then recommend I choose a different location, "move west young man". Or is it south? North of Vegas which only gets 4.5 inches of precipitation per year. You finish up by changing topic about three times, from drought to Cali crowds to earthquakes. Were you writing your post while this earthquake was occuring? If so, I appologize; but WOW! You are interesting. Maybe lay off the mushrooms for a while though.
 
                            
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
I suggest you might consider changing the title of your thread,  because the title is a question to which some answers might be "no, I don't think it is enough."  You might also want to put the "no negative or discouraging responses wanted" in the beginning of your first post.   


Thanks. You're right. And it's not that I don't want people's input. I enjoy the 'look out for's and 'you might try's and even the 'I tried this and failed' comments. It's only the 'you shouldn't try' comments that I really don't care to hear. I am truly grateful for all of the comments where you are sharing experience or helpful links or stories about people who have tried and failed. Anything that can possibly be constructive.
 
                            
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John Polk wrote:
Quite often, the biggest hinderance to accomplishing ambitious plans is getting past all of the naysayers who try to block your way.  The only naysayers you need to be concerned with are the ones working for various government agencies.  The rest are just people who don't think they can do it.

Ambition is a powerful tool.



You kick ass! Thanks, Man.
 
                            
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casedog wrote:
Would probably take a serious amount of work to get 50 families on there, but would be very badass to at least try.  I live in SLC area and dream about the situation you are considering.  If I had the opportunity to get that land, I probably would.


I don't think I would want to actually have 50 families there. When I said it could support fifty, I meant that a household can thrive on 100,000 gallons per year and on this land 5 million gallons fall from the sky each year. 5M / 100K = 50. In reality, I would probably only want between 13 and 25 households on the land, if I could convince anybody at all to come work ith me. It would probably begin with my brothers' and sisters' families, and my wife's brothers' and sisters' families and our parents and grandparents. We would post the positions we were hiring for and welcome new families into the community as we hired them. Eventually, a population of about 100 people would be the limit, before you need to split into two neighborhoods. We will have schools and doctors and lawyers and of course farmer/gardeners and production of all the different products that we make for both in community trade and export/sale. People in surrounding communities will be encouraged to come and enjoy our services, take tours and courses, shop, and come to events. This is the longer term goal. I first need to show that it is possible to thrive in the desert--a desert only because it hasn't been managed properly with waterharvesting earthworks and mulch and shade and wind blocks and the unlimited power of human imagination.
 
Tyler Ludens
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You're fortunate to have your extended family in on the project with you.  That's extremely rare, I think. 


 
Devon Olsen
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yeah, ut laws on water rights are extremely rediculous, sad cus i grew up in st george area and love the surrounding area... AZ it is ig...
 
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