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Creating Dams in Seasonal Stream Beds

 
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The property I am currently leasing has a couple of seasonal streams. The owners are very open minded, especially towards permaculture type projects. I would like to create a number of dams (2 - 6) to store this seasonal water on the land. I would also like to do this as cheaply (but safely) as possible. I have read what the "big black book" has to say on the subject. My questions are: 1) can I use large stones for the "frame" of the dam wall and then fill out the wall with fine material or clay (we have yellow clay a few feet down most places on the property)? 2) how long would it take to build a dam wall that is 10 feet tall and 20 - 30 feet wide? I know this will "depend" but based on typical conditions (not super easy, not super hard), can a dam wall be built in a day or two? 3) What other considerations are important when building dams, I am not looking to do anything to advanced, I would be happy if it holds water and perhaps some fish. I would like to rent a excavator and do the build myself.
 
pollinator
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James, I am working on four dams on my property. Experimenting with different methods. One dam is all logs layed across the creek, I am hoping that it will fill in over time and then I will add another layer of logs. Another is logs and rocks with sand and mud fill. It has washed out the sand once so I put in more rocks. The other two are rocks and sand with mud covering the upstream face of the dam and rocks on the downstream side. They are new dams this year so they leak but thay haven't washed out yet. I do not work on them from start to finish all at once but rather throw a few rocks on now and then, so far they are each about three feet high and about 6 or seven feet wide. I have probably spent 12 of 14 hours ,over the last six months, working on them.The only tools I use are a shovel and pick to move the sand and mud around. Carry the rocks by hand. I would think that an excavator would make it go a lot quicker. Just remember that moving water is pretty powerful stuff so a good spillway is a must..
 
pollinator
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Wyomiles I'm doing the same as you. I've got an area that has similar land properties. I wanted to turn this storm creek. It runs when we have storms in winter. Naturally what gave me the idea was a tree had fallen over across years ago. It had accumulated enough leaf litter, soil, and other debris behind it that it had become a small level terrace. Rich in organic matter. So naturally I added more on top for another layer, as well as creating more. I had the thought it will eventually decompose and possibly break away. So since I have ton of rocks I have been gathering rocks and making small dams. Except I don't want it fully sealed. I'll let it seal over time and build it's own strength. Soon the area will be forest garden.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Jordan, sounds like we are on a common path !
 
pollinator
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I too am doing the same. I was inspired to put two small dams in before the big Frankenstorm this week. One is sort of a seasonal stream/ runoff from my pond the other is the lowest point in my paddocks. In a few days I'll post before and after pics.
 
James Colbert
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I was just looking at the stream beds yesterday and found an area with deep erosion. Some areas were almost 20 feet deep. The cool thing is that they all connect and head towards a common path. The path is narrow and not that deep, perhaps 6 feet. I think this would be an awesome place for a dam. If it held water is would create a pond that looked like a chickens foot -- lots of edge! I think I may be able to store a lot of water with very little work. I think I can do it by hand as well which will save lots of money on equipment rentals. The erosion features on this property are very interesting I should take some pictures and post them. How deep does my pond have to be to raise trout in 100 degree summers?
 
Cj Sloane
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James Colbert wrote:How deep does my pond have to be to raise trout in 100 degree summers?



You have to check the water temperature in August... during a drought.

My pond is 15' at the deepest spot and is not cold enough for trout during a hot dry year.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Here is a picture of one of my rock/sand dams. I put a pipe in just for fun and to make more noise. You can see how deep this gulch has eroded after the beaver dams were taken out years ago. I am hoping that I can stop that with dams. You can also see how I have not stopped the flow of the stream , just slowed it down, as the rocks and sand leak water.

http://i549.photobucket.com/albums/ii370/Wyomiles/Gulch/rockdam.jpg

Here is a shot of the two or three different log "dams". Some are just a log dropped across the stream.

http://i549.photobucket.com/albums/ii370/Wyomiles/Gulch/campinspring2.jpg

This is in fall and you can see that there is a ton of leaves on the ground. I noticed that many of them fall to the bottom of the ponds and hopefully will start sealing the bottom.
At the middle right of the picture you can see the remnants of an old beaver dam. As I walk around the area I can see several of these old dams that covered an acre or two with water.
 
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I liked the one with the log top. It won't wear away when it gets topped. If you are not afraid to "stop" the water till it reaches the top of such a dam, so it becomes a weir you could spread leaf litter on the inside wall. The water flowing through will pull the leaves against the wall and seal it. Also if you are concerned about the strength of the dams, make lots of them so the water from the next one hits the front wall of the last one that should reduce the strength requirement. I suspect that it would stop erosion at the base of the dam wall from water hitting the soil of the creek bottom.
 
James Colbert
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Very cool, this thread is giving me the motivation and confidence to build a few dams by hand. For some reason I thought that dams were going to require heavy equipment but I guess that is just a matter of scale. I have heard again and again not to allow water to go over the wall of a dam or else there is a risk of the dam failing. So how do you guys setup diversion drains or "monks" to prevent this issue? I have noticed that pipes that go through dam walls often have, for lack of a better word, a baffle which prevents leaks or the pipe from shooting out the downhill side of the dam because of water pressure. At what point does this need to be taken in to consideration?
 
Jordan Lowery
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James what he is making and I'm making are debris dams not a dam like you'd see mostly in permaculture. This is the way beavers make thier dams. Which unlike most dams are designed for the water to spill over the top. The thing is it helps to add material each year with these debris dams. You can also use big boulders.

Nature also makes debris dams in flash floods.
 
James Colbert
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Jordan,
interesting that makes planning a lot easier, thanks for the heads up. Are these types of dams water tight, or rather can the be made to be? I am thinking of using stones and fill in the gaps with clay dug from the property.
 
Jordan Lowery
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From what observing they seal themselves over time.

Also consider I am not trying to stop tons of water year around. Most of the time in my situation there is no running water of any kind. Someone who has to deal with a lot more water, I'd go with giant boulders if possible.
 
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I am almost afraid to ask this but.... does anyone know of the legality of creating dams on a seasonal creek? My son and I have been messing with small dams in our creek for the past few years and are looking to go bigger but I don't really want to ask any gov't sources and don't know where to find the answer otherwise. It also sounds you all are doing what we intend to do.


I have also found that the debris dam works well, whether it be logs or stones. And i've often thought, as I sit and watch the water flow, about all the leaves that are being steeped in the water hole behind our little dam. I sit and wonder if those leaves are collecting all sorts of minerals and nutrients from the water and if so, I should be harvesting them for use elsewhere. Any thoughts?
 
steward
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The legality will vary from State/State.

Here, in most western states, it is considered a real no/no, unless you have the water rights (and nobody down stream has some of them). Any attempt to alter the natural flow can land one in court...civil and/or criminal. Even if we have water rights, we need to be careful of what/how we do whatever with our water.

Eastern states are much more lenient on their water regulations, as water is not such a critical issue there.
Tread lightly until you know what you can legally do in your region.

Are there 'water conservation' departments in your region? If so, check with them (or better yet, get somebody else to check for you...once you are on their radar, they won't forget you).

 
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So I will rain on everyone's parade. Nationally, if you are placing anything into a stream or wetland you technically have to apply for a section 404 permit from the army corps. Intermittent streams are a grey area, but I haven been made to get them in the past or face litigation. States will also have their own permit requirements that vary by state. In Indiana we require a 401 permit to mitigate against any impact on wetlands for streams. We would also require a construction in a floodway permit. One of the best ways around these permit requirements is to try to capture the rainwater before it hits the stream.
 
pollinator
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If I were down stream of any home made dams, I'd hope (real fervently) that the builder had considered what would happen when he succeeded and it filled up and was "awesome great"... And then collapsed during a 10 year storm and sent all the water downstream in one great mass.

It's only basic responsibility and good citizenship to take into account the failure mode of your projects and actions, especially when it can impact others severely. Good engineering spends a significant amount of effort trying to design for "graceful failure". Sometimes people decide it's too expensive (IIRC double hulled oil tankers were never mandated), but generally it seems worthwhile to at least try to cover the obvious bases.

Rufus
 
Cj Sloane
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Tom Reeve wrote:One of the best ways around these permit requirements is to try to capture the rainwater before it hits the stream.



Well, I think this is what I've done.
Before:

After:

Filled:


Sort of a swale/ hugelkuture something or other. It's always been fairly muddy in that spot (isn't that what Sepp recommends). It gets runoff from my pond. There's a dropoff 20' behind the dam/HK and below that is a creek so the water was heading that way anyhow.

This was a test so I may just keep making it a little bigger/taller.
 
Cj Sloane
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Well, maybe it is a dam and not really a swale because the water is still there a month later. The first 4" of soil was pretty muddy but below that was clay. I guess it's not really a stream bed though.

BTW, the pigs till a great job of tilling that spot. You could never till with a tiller (not that I would) because it's all ledge.
 
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Cj Verde wrote:

James Colbert wrote:How deep does my pond have to be to raise trout in 100 degree summers?


You have to check the water temperature in August... during a drought. My pond is 15' at the deepest spot and is not cold enough for trout during a hot dry year.



Hmm... We're also in Vermont and we have trout in our ponds. The ponds are about 4' deep. They never freeze solid and they never get very warm. They are spring fed. The incoming spring water is in the 40°F range year round. It also never gets over 86°F at our place. Checking flow and temperature in August is a good idea.

I would suggest not building in the streams or altering their course. We capture and direct spring water that has been serving our farm for hundreds of years. I also would suggest keeping livestock away from streams and springs. What we do is run 1" and 2" black plastic pipe from the springs to where we need the water. The water then flows from trough to trough down the mountain through more plastic pipe. The flowing warm water keeps it free even through the winter. A bevy of springs and thousands of feet of pipe let us serve all of our fields and paddocks. We also have terraced and set in swales which helps.

See:
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/01/02/water-line-reel/
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/08/06/water-line-pull/
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/12/17/spring-improvement/

and for fun:
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/07/08/ancient-brick-by-spring/
 
Cj Sloane
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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I should have said that it's 15' at the deepest spot when it's filled up. In June/July there is no overflow to direct to it and the water level starts to drop. In August of a dry year the 15' spot can be more like 5-8'. With no cool water flowing in it's only good for catfish or carp.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Walter , Where did you get that big roll of 2" pipe?
 
Walter Jeffries
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I ordered it from EJ Prescott, a local plumbing supplier. They get it from a plumbing manufacturer in Massachusetts.
 
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We have beavers on our creek and they have, in the past, built dams high enough to flood back the properties upstream. This leads to some dynamite blasting.

When bought the property 2 years after the last blast and I want the beavers left alone mainly, but it was an area of contention between us and the upstream neighbors until we found this:
http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/assistance/backyard/privatelandsprogram/clemson_beaver_pond_leveler.pdf

This is the year we plan to put it out if we can get a good freeze to walk on the creek. In addition to the pipe, we plan on installing a trolling motor into the end of the drain area for a constant output.

I'll try to get pictures as we go through the process, but now everyone is happy, including the beavers.
 
Walter Jeffries
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That's an interesting and very complex approach to a simple problem. We do something that has a similar effect but is much easier to make. Just take a corrugated plastic culvert. They're 20' long. The corrugations are on the outside of the double wall. The interior is smooth. In the valley's of the corrugations simply drill holes. 1" works well. Drill a lot of holes, much like is shown in the device you linked to. But all the rest of that device is not necessary. Then install it through the dam. You can cap the upstream end or not. Use two lengths of culvert for larger situations to send the water further down from the dam. The beaver react to the sound of the flowing water by building more dam. This distributes and dampens the sound so they leave it alone and concentrate on the the dam rather than the perforated pipe. Both get the job done but this solution is considerably easier, simpler and less costly than the one pictured at that link.
 
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Location: Utah
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Be careful, this is illegal in many areas. A man just got 30 days in jail and had to tear them out in Oregon.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Shane McKenna wrote:Be careful, this is illegal in many areas. A man just got 30 days in jail and had to tear them out in Oregon.



From what I hear everything is illegal in Oregon.
 
Shane McKenna
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It is illegal in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming too. It has to do with filed water rights. We filed for water rights for run off water in two mostly dry washes that ran into our Wyoming property. We were granted water rights for irrigation from one of the draws, but the other already had a prior right granted. We could use the run off as irrigation, and developed a small spring for our house water, because we expressly filed for those specific rights. As I recall, we still could not build a pond. Perhaps if we had applied to feed a aquaculture pond, it may have been granted, but as I recall we were specifically not allowed to build a stock pond. If I were to do it over again, I would have used hugelkultur beds, and charged the beds when the water is running. At the time, we irrigated a pasture, and extended the growth by a few weeks into the early summer.

Another example is Mark Miller's auto dealership in Salt Lake City built a cistern to collect rain and snow water from their roof and parking lot, to use as a supplement for washing their cars. Because of existing water rights, they had to abandon the plan, even though no agriculture still exists between their location, and the Great Salt Lake. The storm water just runs into the Jordan River, and into one of the saltiest lakes on the planet. So don't assume that just because no one else is going to use it, that the water is available. my advice, keep it small, keep it quiet. It is my understanding, that here in Utah we cannot collect roof run off into a cistern. To direct it onto landscaping if fine, but to store it is not legal. In the last few years, the federal government has been pushing to take control of all waterways, including irrigation ditches. I have not followed the issue recently, but if they get that control, you can count on not being able to do anything anywhere without asking for federal permission. It does not matter how good your intentions are or how good your design is, it will be who's butt do you kiss, and palm do you grease.
 
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