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Transitioning from ditch/flood irrigation to ponds and swales

Posts: 37
Location: Colorado, ~5700', Zone 5b, ~11" ann. precip
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Hi Aranya,
Thank you for giving us some of your time here on Permies!

I have an earthen irrigation ditch (no pipes) running along the length of one long side of my farm. There is a slope, but it is very small, <5%. Water is deeded to us from approx mid-April through mid-October. I am thinking about putting ponds in the natural low spots, and possibly connecting the ponds to other ponds via swales in between. There is only one place right on the ditch where a pond makes sense, and the other ponds may be connected to this one and to others on contour elsewhere on the land. The swales will be bermed on the downhill side (possibly with hugelkultur), and I hope to plant above and below the swales to develop patches of food forest. Before we bought this place, the previous owners irrigated by turning out the ditch into a more shallow "header" ditch that ran parallel to the main ditch. Then, from the header ditch were "marks" cut 18" -24" apart that ran perpendicular to the contour, shooting all the water relatively quickly down the slope and off the property. The property was used solely for grazing, and the soil is a high percentage of clay, is very alkaline and very hard when dry. I doubt that the ponds would maintain water through the winter in this dry climate (at least in the beginning!) but it would be great to have some fish growing in the ponds as well!

My question is, do I leave the present ditch as-is and maintain the "marks" to flow down the slope, to be captured by the swales and ponds, or would it be more advantageous to divert the water to fill the ponds, which will overflow into swales between? I haven't gotten around to reading about the keyline concept, so I'm not sure how that works and if that makes more sense here. Do you have any experience with something like this? Does one method seems "better" at holding water, or is it a wash; or do I need to put my energy into something completely different? If I maintain the marks, the higher area between the irrigation ditch and the first swale would get some water by surface flooding, whereas if I diverted it to ponds, that area might be drier. Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated - thanks for your time!
Posts: 2043
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Hi Lisa,

How are you doing with your irrigation transition? I see it has been a long time since you posted your question, and not a single reply. I'm in the Grand Junction area with 2 acres, and irrigation water to the highest corner of my ground, April to October. I've been putting in a sort of hybrid swale, ditch system.

There is a fair amount of discussion on the earthworks and flood irrigation thread. This link might take you there:
The original poster is also a Coloradan, south and east somewhere. Maybe you already found that thread. I found this thread because it is listed as similar to that one.

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