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How to best leverage a seasonal water situation for the benefit of plants, animals, and us?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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We have a small stream that runs from about May to October, which runs through a small pond on the property. Attached is a photo of our landscape with water elements noted for better understanding.

The water is FABULOUS and clean, totally drinkable for us without any filtration. But, the water is very cold (it originates from a glacier about 1 mile up the mountain) and runs straight through the property without sticking around long enough to do much for us. Our property is the first piece of private land that the stream hits, coming straight out of wilderness forest service land. There are some restrictions for us around managing the stream, as others downstream have water rights and we do not. We cannot trap or dam the water and prevent it from reaching its destination, BUT, we can re-route it and use it a few times before it gets back to the stream and leaves the property. We have played with different ideas, i.e. man-made wetlands to slow the water down and warm it up before it empties into a series of small ponds stocked with fish, etc, but so far we have struggled to find good information to guide our decisions.

We would like to figure out a way to make the water useful to us, our critters, and our plants, without robbing our neighbors downstream. Also, our neighbors have mentioned to us that our current pond was originally constructed to mitigate the occasional flooding from big melt-offs that apparently has occurred in this neighborhood in the past. We would like to incorporate this knowledge into our water system designs, and be sure to create a beneficial water architecture that ALSO manages the once-in-a-decade flood situation.

Ben, what would you do?
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Author
Posts: 55
Location: Mad River Valley, VT
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Lauren Dixon wrote:We have a small stream that runs from about May to October, which runs through a small pond on the property. Attached is a photo of our landscape with water elements noted for better understanding.

The water is FABULOUS and clean, totally drinkable for us without any filtration. But, the water is very cold (it originates from a glacier about 1 mile up the mountain) and runs straight through the property without sticking around long enough to do much for us. Our property is the first piece of private land that the stream hits, coming straight out of wilderness forest service land. There are some restrictions for us around managing the stream, as others downstream have water rights and we do not. We cannot trap or dam the water and prevent it from reaching its destination, BUT, we can re-route it and use it a few times before it gets back to the stream and leaves the property. We have played with different ideas, i.e. man-made wetlands to slow the water down and warm it up before it empties into a series of small ponds stocked with fish, etc, but so far we have struggled to find good information to guide our decisions.

We would like to figure out a way to make the water useful to us, our critters, and our plants, without robbing our neighbors downstream. Also, our neighbors have mentioned to us that our current pond was originally constructed to mitigate the occasional flooding from big melt-offs that apparently has occurred in this neighborhood in the past. We would like to incorporate this knowledge into our water system designs, and be sure to create a beneficial water architecture that ALSO manages the once-in-a-decade flood situation.

Ben, what would you do?



You are LUCKY to have a situation like this. Headwaters stream, slope, lots of water.
The main thing I would want to do it spread that water out as much as possible on your site, infiltrating, moderating the climate and fertilizing as much as possible your site before it leaves. This would be done with a combo of ponds, swales and maybe paddies. Where these go, how big they are and what to plant them with/stock them with/how to actually make them has to be determined on site. The book goes into some depth on this, however.
BUT
Your neighbors won't be happy if you dry up their stream. So, I would aim to do the above slowing, spreading and sinking without affecting their situation if possible. That's theoretically impossible, but practically possible. You could tap the stream most in high flow situations and the drier it gets the less you could tap the stream. This means you need STORAGE. That usually means a pond or really massive ferrocement tank high on your land which in essence becomes the glacier in low flows. If the glacial melt is more constant than you have other options. Diversions to the stream, will of course be needed. I am surprised that's legal where you are. What state are you in?
 
Ben Falk
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Posts: 55
Location: Mad River Valley, VT
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PS: you want storage that will likely end up being drawn down in the dry season so you actually have absorption capacity come the wet season. It's going to be pond(s) up high and as many feet of swale as you can muster on site, then potentially more pond(s) on the way down and down low.
That's exactly what we do here.
 
Posts: 16
Location: Seal Harbor, ME
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One thing to play with the level of the bank on your property's side of the stream. If you can legally alter it ( this might be tricky) to overtop the bank during high flows to then move water into a swale wetland complex. Water can be stored and infiltrated in this manner using ponds, level spreaders, Swales, etc. the plus of this is that during normal flows you are not removing water that is "owned" by your downstream neighbors. It is sort of the opposite of a levy, an artificially lowered sport that allows flood water, say a 1% storm event, to overflow the banks, giving you lots of temporary water for your storage and infiltration. You must take care to ensure the bank toe is protected from erosion using vegetation.
 
Tom Reeve
Posts: 16
Location: Seal Harbor, ME
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Can't seem to edit on my tablet. Read 1% storm event as 100% storm event, or one that has the potential to occur every year.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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try to do a pond on the lowest point on your properpty if you can..an indentation that is natural and that already HOLDS water if possible..that is what we did..then you can take advantage of your own rain, snowmelt and the runoff also..so you aren't just using the creek water alone.

have the overflow go back toward the pond at a lower point.
 
Lauren Dixon
Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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Thanks for the great advice and responses. To answer your question, Ben, we are in Northwest Montana. In our area (quite rural) we have very few restrictions on our activities, including zero building codes. I have searched a bit to find out about stream management restrictions here, and have come up with only a little information, mostly about which fish species I can legally stock in my pond. I am sure the rules exist, but I will have to dig a bit deeper to find them. I think that as long as I am not hindering my downstream neighbor's water level, I will be okay. That, however, sounds easier said than done.

The way our system is designed, we already have one stream diversion. There is an 8" diameter buried PVC pipe starting from the stream bank and stretching about 50 feet from the stream and emptying out in the small pond on the property. There is another buried PVC pipe in the far end of the pond, draining water back to the stream further down, so it is essentially a system that brings water in and straight back out with zero water retention. When the stream dries up, the pond is dry within 2 days. The pond is quite PRETTY, with a little waterfall and some nice flagstone landscaping, but it is functionally handicapped at the moment. The most I have gotten out of it is a place for the dogs to play in the summertime, and some very minor irrigation to a hugelkultur bed below the pond's retaining wall. I am wondering if, rather than diverting the STREAM, perhaps I can divert water from my pond? Then, technically, I'm not messing with the integrity of the stream itself, though I am, of course, using some of the water. The reason I say this is that a large section of the stream is visible from the other side of my property boundary fence, but my pond is not visible unless you walk onto the land. I am not opposed to covert tactics, as long as I am not depriving anybody else with my antics!

 
steward
Posts: 4400
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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It seems to me, and I am no expert, that it is all about slowing the water down enough to soak in. Once the water has gotten into the "sponge" of the earth it will begin to run back out again. This is what I have seen on films where they green the desert. Where once there was no water , they begin to have springs and creeks. So if you divert the water during high flows and allow the sponge to fill up, the water might create an "under ground flow" that will not be noticed by the downstream users. One way to be sure that you have not decreased the flow is to add a wier of some sort at the outlet from your property and keep records of the flow throughout the year.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weir

Once you have the sponge full you should be able to create ponds and return streams.
 
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