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Building big ponds in arid climates  RSS feed

 
Posts: 53
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What is the lower limit of rainfall per year that could keep a 1/4 acre pond full? What about with rain catchment and earthworks for rain harvesting (at least only needing nominal irrigation for regular crops/forest gardening)?

It seems that the land gets cheaper the less rainfall and lushness it has, also the less accessible drinking water available. I was just wondering if it would be cheaper to buy cheap land and design it to catch water, have a pond, and filtration for drinking water then to buy the cream of the crop land. Can local extension services provide information on land you are only considering buying?
 
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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it depends on runoff rates, area of collection and evaporation rates.

for drinking water, best to store in closed tanks.
 
master pollinator
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If in an area where evaporation exceeds rainfall by much at all, ponds will tend to go dry every summer except in wet years unless fed by springs or wells. In dry climates the best place to store large amounts of water is in the soil and in living plants, and smaller quantities in closed tanks, as Abe suggests. Installing enough rain harvesting earthworks such as swales on a large enough piece of land can cause springs to emerge, but this usually takes a few years.

The Soil Survey for the county you're looking at can have information about soils and maps showing location of water features. Some surveys can be found here: http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm You can often get one for free at the county Soil Conservation Service or extension office.
 
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Location: Portlandia, Oregon
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My thoughts are if you are going to try ponds, at least amle them deep... The cooler temp of deep ponds should slow the rate of evaporation somewhat.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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I read a document somewhere talking about sand ponds for dry areas. They would make a huge dam and then fill the pond with large rocks. as the pond filled with rocks, the rocks got smaller, until on top, it was sand.

The way it works, the water fills the spaces between the rocks, but the sand prevents evaporation. You need to leave a manhole or something to get to the water, but they were very successful at keeping water year round in very arid areas.
 
Bobby Eshleman
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Thanks for all the great advice. Abe, that dry pond sounds really interesting. I live in Oregon, and usually the cheapest land is in Eastern Oregon, specifically Lake County. The plot I saw and got me thinking was one that evidentally had been used for logging since a lot of the trees are growing right next to cleanly cut stumps. My brother tells me that all that land is useless, but he also doesn't know anything about earthworks and water catchment besides using barrels, and also doesn't know anything about the function of perennial root systems in maintaining soil health, forest gardening in retaining water, and so any of his plans using only conventional organic farming methods will require a more abundant supply of rainfall than is really necessary IMO. Although, he could be right in some ways, but neither of us could know without actually finding out the info and estimate the cost and efficacy of rainwater harvesting techniques.

That web soil survey site looks helpful, i'll learn how to use it properly to get more info. It's cool to know that the Soil Conservation Service/Extension service can sometimes do such surveys for free!
 
Tyler Ludens
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For most options to develop the land with earthworks, look for a place that's slightly sloping, but not too steep. Definitely not flat. Beware of arroyos or seasonal creeks because even though these might be a great resource of extra water, they can also be frighteningly destructive problems in flood (I know, we have two seasonal creeks which meet in the middle of our land and periodically wash out our driveway). If you do find a place with a dry creek, make sure it doesn't pass through near where you want your driveway, buildings or important gardens. Seasonal creeks show up on maps as a dotted line. Solid lines usually represent constant creeks or ones which historically were constant (what they call "live" here).
 
Shawn Harper
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Location: Portlandia, Oregon
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Bobby Eshleman wrote:Thanks for all the great advice. Abe, that dry pond sounds really interesting. I live in Oregon, and usually the cheapest land is in Eastern Oregon, specifically Lake County. The plot I saw and got me thinking was one that evidentally had been used for logging since a lot of the trees are growing right next to cleanly cut stumps. My brother tells me that all that land is useless, but he also doesn't know anything about earthworks and water catchment besides using barrels, and also doesn't know anything about the function of perennial root systems in maintaining soil health, forest gardening in retaining water, and so any of his plans using only conventional organic farming methods will require a more abundant supply of rainfall than is really necessary IMO. Although, he could be right in some ways, but neither of us could know without actually finding out the info and estimate the cost and efficacy of rainwater harvesting techniques.

That web soil survey site looks helpful, i'll learn how to use it properly to get more info. It's cool to know that the Soil Conservation Service/Extension service can sometimes do such surveys for free!



Lol what part of lake county you looking at? My bother owns land near Christmas valley, and I also plan on setting up a homestead over there. Keep in mind lake county used to be a lake bed, and it is alot more fertile than most think. IMO the only problem lake county has is alot of sand and not much organic matter in the soil.
 
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i gotta subsribe to this, great link for the NRCS tool, may prove useful
it says my area pretty much blows entirely lol
but i see potential:)
 
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I think that a pond is especially necessary in an arid climate as your"water bank" in the event of hard times. In fact even in my part of the world, the Chihuhuan Desert, there is rain. 100 years ago it averaged slightly higher than 12 inches per year, lately its more like 6 inches with our current droughty situation. Desert rains around the world typically come not as they do in the NE USA, a bit here and a bit there with March being the wettest, but late Summer, and as a mini monsoon. You may get 75 percent of your rain in one evening and you must be ready to catch it. I have heard the nightmarish "cant catch rainwater" regs from other parts of the country (chiefly legistlature that benefits the cattle industry) but Texas has no such restrictions. Come on down.....PS I hope to start a Tilapia pond this Fall, fed on algae and freshwater shrimp. Mike L.
 
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Make sure to carefully study your state's laws regarding water rights.

In Oregon (and many other western states) rains that fall on your land belong to the public, not you. If you build ponds, dams, or other structures to keep this water, you may need to buy water rights to use it.

If you can improve the tilth of the soil to the point that all of that water soaks into your soil, I don't believe you can be held liable for using it, but if you intentionally create earth works or structures to control its flow and/or retain it, you may be looked upon as stealing the public's water. Heavy fines, and jail time could result from such actions.

Carefully study the laws before you begin (or even buy!).

Improve your tilth as a first step. Make your 'improvements' small and low-key. A 6" deep ditch along contour can be passed off as "Oh, that? That's where I'm going to plant my potatoes next season." A 1/4 acre pond is a little harder to explain away.

Most of these laws may sound harsh to most of us, but they date back to the Territorial days (before statehood) as a means of stopping wealthy land-grabbers from coming in and hoarding the scarce and precious water supplies. Their intent is to guarantee sufficient water for everybody, not just "he-with-the-biggest-bulldozer".

 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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I think that a pond is especially necessary in an arid climate as your"water bank" in the event of hard times. In fact even in my part of the world, the Chihuhuan Desert, there is rain. 100 years ago it averaged slightly higher than 12 inches per year, lately its more like 6 inches with our current droughty situation. Desert rains around the world typically come not as they do in the NE USA, a bit here and a bit there with March being the wettest, but late Summer, and as a mini monsoon. You may get 75 percent of your rain in one evening and you must be ready to catch it. I have heard the nightmarish "cant catch rainwater" regs from other parts of the country (chiefly legistlature that benefits the cattle industry) but Texas has no such restrictions. Come on down.....PS I hope to start a Tilapia pond this Fall, fed on algae and freshwater shrimp. Mike L.



Mike, I totally agree, but I don't think ponds are the best way to store water in arid areas. Tanks are much better. I am also in the Chihuahuan desert, and here's our approach to water storage: http://www.velacreations.com/blog/item/280-barn-tank.html
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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John Polk wrote:Make sure to carefully study your state's laws regarding water rights.

In Oregon (and many other western states) rains that fall on your land belong to the public, not you. If you build ponds, dams, or other structures to keep this water, you may need to buy water rights to use it.


I assume you are referring to the recent story where the guy in Oregon was damming up tributaries to a local stream without a permit. What is interesting about that story is that he had previously applied for a permit and was rejected. So, he built his dams anyway, and got slapped with a fine, to which he pled guilty. He opened up the dams, and fast forward to a few years later, and he closed the dams again, built boat docks and some other things, and caught the attention of the local authorities once again.

A few things about this story that strike me as interesting. He obviously knew about the need for the permit, but acted anyway, and technically he was diverting tributaries, which are not appropriately classifieds as rainwater. This wasn't a case of someone catching water from their roof.

In any case, check your local ordinances, and apply for the permits BEFORE damming up local waterways, and if they reject your permits, don't go ahead and build the dams and not expect some sort of consequence.
 
Michael Littlejohn
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Abe I like it! Nice engineering and generous of you also to post construction pics of it. But I mispoke earlier or just didnt change the idea of "ponds". My own project is only half dug at this time, but it will ultimately will be well below ground (where prying eyes will not be able to see it). It will be part of the house, and will do double duty as a Tilapia pond, and organic-hydroponics above assisting filtration....I think of as the heart of the house.

I agree in this part of the world, evaporation from the high temps would defeat the purpose of an open pond, ( but Im sure would attract all manner of desert life) water catchment in this part of the world should have a lid on it to conserve evaporated water. I am also hoping that the water, well below ground will absorb the ambient temperature from the cooler earth and keep the house overall cooler. I am also wondering if it is possible to run some sort of air vent through it to cool the house with a primitive sort of air conditioning.

Can I ask (other than that Pursilane) what you are having success growing out there??? Thanks... Mike
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Michael Langtry wrote:Abe I like it! Nice engineering and generous of you also to post construction pics of it. But I mispoke earlier or just didnt change the idea of "ponds". My own project is only half dug at this time, but it will ultimately will be well below ground (where prying eyes will not be able to see it). It will be part of the house, and will do double duty as a Tilapia pond, and organic-hydroponics above assisting filtration....I think of as the heart of the house.

I agree in this part of the world, evaporation from the high temps would defeat the purpose of an open pond, ( but Im sure would attract all manner of desert life) water catchment in this part of the world should have a lid on it to conserve evaporated water. I am also hoping that the water, well below ground will absorb the ambient temperature from the cooler earth and keep the house overall cooler. I am also wondering if it is possible to run some sort of air vent through it to cool the house with a primitive sort of air conditioning.

Can I ask (other than that Pursilane) what you are having success growing out there??? Thanks... Mike



Mike, I am on the other side of the desert from you. I believe you are in west Texas? I used to live near Terlingua, so I know what you are up against. Invest in shade cloth! And wicking beds: http://www.velacreations.com/food/plants/annuals/item/108.html

In Terlingua, we were able to grow many things, tomatoes, peppers, melons, eggplant, squash, beans, etc. We also took advantage of the numerous wild foods there, including mesquite, persimmons, prickly pear, strawberry cactus, yucca, etc.

In our current location, we have a bit more rain, and we can grow a wider range of things, but still have limitations. For trees, we've been successful with plums, peaches, apricots, almonds, mulberry, etc.

We have been living on rain catchment for 12 years now. The key is to get your roof up first, then start investing in tanks. The liner tanks are the best bang for your buck.

Good luck to you, and let us know how things develop!
 
John Polk
steward
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I was not referring to that specific case in Oregon. Blocking tributaries is even worse than catching run-off in the state's eyes.

Even if you drill a well on your property, you do not own the water in it. Various states have been known to fine people using their wells for irrigation. You may use all you need for household purposes, but not for agricultural use.

Most states have better things to do that watch how you are handling water on your property. Usually you never hear about such cases unless somebody gets greedily stupid. That guy building docks on a pond that shouldn't even exist sounds like a prime example of someone the state should go after.

 
pollinator
Posts: 516
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Check out subsurface dams:

http://www.paceproject.net/UserFiles/File/Water/Sub%20surface%20dams.pdf

I don't know how water laws would handle them.


Also, research runoff agriculture. Here is a brief summary of the subject:

http://fadr.msu.ru/rodale/agsieve/txt/vol2/8/art1.html

There are a few good books on the subject. You can purchase them, or check your local libraries, especially university libraries.

Holzer's hugelkultur terraces could be described as a form of runoff agriculture.


It may be better to dig a maze of deep ditches, rather than one large body of water. That is how Fish Springs Migratory Bird Refuge is constructed here in the Western Desert of Utah. You might be able to integrate chinampa (hugelkultur, if you prefer) beds between the ditches.

Something to consider when improving water resources is that when you create a "wetland" (it only has to be damp), you don't have the right (in the US) to uncreate or alter it later without involving the Corp of Engineers, a lawyer and a mitigation specialist.
 
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Is it appropriate to use ponds in arid climates such as northwestern Montana?

I know that Sepp installed at least one pond as part of his design at the project in Dayton last year so it seems that ponds could be a good water storage approach. But, I recently took my permaculutre design course with Geoff Lawton and in the course notes it says that ponds are not appropriate to use in arid climates. The Designers Manual says that an arid climate gets less than 19.5" of rain per year. In the area I'm looking there is an average of 14.7" of rain per year. I'm trying to understand where the disconnect is or what I'm missing.

I think that ponds make sense for this particular climate but I need to make the case to the team I'm working with.

I've included some basic info on the climate in the attached pdf's. I wasn't smart enough to be able to paste them into the post from an excel format.

Filename: Rain-and-Snow.pdf
Description: Precipitation
File size: 108 Kbytes
Filename: Temperature-and-Relative-Humidity.pdf
Description: Temperature
File size: 137 Kbytes
 
Andrew Parker
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I think the critical number is the evapotranspiration rate. If precipitation is lower than the evapotranspiration rate, you are in an arid climate (or semi-arid, I will refer to them both as arid ,for simplicity).

Whether to have a pond or not would seem to depend on what you intend it to do. In an arid region, any open body of water (including streams and canals) will lose significant amounts of water through evaporation. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the effects are intended and you don't need the evaporated water for something more important. You can reduce evaporative losses by reducing the surface area, planting or constructing windbreaks, or covering (hoop house, floating bubble-wrap, etc.).
 
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