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Restoring a dry creek bed with rain and grey water?
Hi everyone! On my property, there is a dry creek bed which winds about 100ft, at which point it ends in what appears to be a dry pond, with about a 4ft vertical embankment. This dry creek bed is about 150 yards down a moderate slope from mine and my
Neighbors house. The outlets for my home's grey water and gutters all spit out right behind the house over open ground.

If it's even possible, I would like to attempt to revitalize this creek bed and pond into a more established ecosystem. How could I go about this? Is it as simple as funneling all the water possible to the start of the creek with plastic drain piping? Would it be beneficial to cover the bottom of the creek somehow with rocks, logs, or to line it with plastic or something? Any advice would be much appreciated,


I don't have answers for you but I tell you about my own situation. I have an old river bed (creek size) running across my land. It may have been seasonal in the past although the one neighbor who lived here in the 80's said that it flowed constantly until sometime in the early 90's. That was during a wet period here. But it has lost it's water source so it will not flow again. I run my catchment tank overflow to it. But the bottom has lost it's gley layer, so the water simply drains into the ground. Just recently I made a 16' round pond, 3 ' deep, in the river bed which I will make watertight by using a pond liner. I plan to raise tilapia in it. Without an active gley layer, this old bed will not hold water.

...Su Ba
Farmer Chris : Welcome to Permies and our sister site richsoil.com, With nearly 21,000 Fellow members world wide, you should be able to come here 24 / 7 and find
members who want to talk about what you want to talk about Because it helps us to give you good answers we need your general location and climate # if you know it.

Look at your name, and L@@K at mine! Please go to> the Permies Toolbox at the Top of this page and click on> 'My Profile', this will send you to a new page where you will
be helped to add this information !

Because your question is so specific to soil types and drainage, you should do Multiple soil sedimentation tests a day until you have a good profile of your properties soil(s)

Also we are not interested in letting any water just run away, and funneling it through pipes is counter productive, We are As This Forum suggests all about Water Catchment
allowing the water to slowly sink in and nether run off or evaporate. One of the best systems for doing so is described as 'Cutting Swales' into your lands contours.

Again I am going to send you to the Permies Toolbox to connect with Permies own 'iCloud', the ''pCloud''! Find and Clickon> 'Search', you will be sent to a new page where you
can enter a search term into the search field 24 /7 ( search Swales as 1 topic, and soil sedimentation test as another ) and do a google search within Permies to isolate your
search to 'the pCloud' !

Immediately after you make your post to a new thread our computer tries to find key words and makes a list of (possible )' Similar Threads' ?! And posts them at the bottom
of this Thread Page. As you are still learning what questions to ask, THIS TIME the computer did not help much but it is also immediately available after your new post !

For the Crafts, Think like Fire, Flow like a Gas, Don't be a Marshmallow! As always comments and/or questions are Solicited and Are Welcome ! PYRO - Logically BIG AL !
Chris, I neglected to mention that I raise sugar cane in my dry river bed. Cane needs water and I discovered that the ground tends to stay a tad moister in the bed area. Thus the reason for using it as my site for the permanent sugar cane area. Any overflow from the catchment tanks thus goes to benefit the cane. In wet years the cane can get really gigantic because of the extra water.
Howdy Chris, welcome to permies.

How much land do you have? How much land drains into your creek bed?
How much rain do you get per year in your area?
How much of that rain just runs off your land?
If the creek is not feed from a spring , it may have once been feed by the water that seeped out of the soil nearby.
The soil should function as a sort of sponge. Soaking up and holding water, then slowly releasing it.
One of the things you might try is to build swales uphill from the creek to try and catch any rain and let it soak into the soil.
If you can find a "yoemans keyline plow" use it to open up the soil.
Build more ponds uphill also.
Increase the organic content of your soil and build the "sponge".
If you can hold enough water in the sponge you may be able to revive the stream.
Thanks everyone for responding! I'll try and address some issues that were raised:

I have 6 acres total, roughly one of which slopes from the back of my house down a hill toward the creek. The soil in the creek bed is pure sand. On one side of the hill sloping downward are a few small depressions and short drainage ditches, which look like they could be made into ponds easily enough. I'm familiar with Swales but am confused: do I need one long swale dug on contour along the whole length of the hill, or will mini-Swales a few feet long each be enough? Digging by hand is probably how I would have to do this for now, but I'll look into the yeomans plow. Long term, I'd like to clear the area and make it a fruit orchard, for which Swales would be essential. But I'd have to wait a while to do that because I imagine it would be fairly expensive.

I've attempted to attach two photos, the first being a view of the creek bed from where it ends, on top of the bank of the pond. The second is a view from where the creek appears it starts, looking up toward the house.

I am not interested in letting rainwater run off willy nilly, and rather than building an expensive catchment structure, thought I might be able to use this natural catchment instead.

This part of Georgia typically gets 50 inches a year, but this summer saw unprecedented levels of precipitation, like double the avg. Could I temporarily pipe the rain and gray water into the creek while I work my way uphill building Swales?
Looking at the creek from the dry pond where it leads
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
Bottom of the hill behind my house, where the creek really starts, looking up the hill. The natural depressions and short drainage ditches I mention trail up the hill on the right side of this photo
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
Su, is the overflow from your catchment tank enough to keep water in the pond? Does the water flow through the sugar can during high rainfall, or does it puddle up?
Chris Jones : I am very close to the limit of my knowledge of the way Swales work, having originally come to talk about Rocket Mass Heaters And Wood Stoves !

I Think that mini swales is the way to start until you can teach yourself to read your terrain, any mistake that channels your water towards the surface to
run away can usually be corrected with more swales downstream ! And Now I realy am at the end of my slight knowledge on this subject !
Thanks Allen, I am just going to experiment with a few things and see what works. I will try building a series of Swales spaced about 15' apart going down the hill toward where the creek bed starts, each one about a foot deep, a foot and a half wide, and about 10' long. This will mean digging about 10-15 Swales...but hey Rome wasn't built in a day!! I will hugel them with varying size logs/branches on top of 1-2" of gravel, and I will just divert my rain and grey water into the Swales, or perhaps into a small pond that can overflow into the Swales.

I am not sure if what I am envisioning is possible, but I am going to try my best to get this creek flowing again. Thanks to everyone who chimed in with tips and advice. If my project is successful down the line, I will post about it.

Hey Chris - sounds like a fun project. And lucky you with all that water to work with!

If I can make a few suggestions... (hell, I'm going to anyway! LOL)
--first of all, swales are definitely the way to go. They will not only, eventually, make your stream run more often and pond stay full but they will rehydrate your entire landscape while they do it, thereby making the whole system more productive AND they will NOT cause erosion. Having a pipe dump directly into the stream/pond would cause scouring and erosion.
--it's important to remember that swales are "tree growing systems" - trees being the backbone of a healthy and mature ecosystem. The mixture of trees you choose to put on your swale system will often influence how far apart they are. (this is all from geoff lawton's online PDC course, btw). In all climates you want a mix of hardy pioneer species, especially legumes and productive trees (fruit, firewood, crafts, building material). The back cut (uphill) side of the swale is usually where most of the natives will go. The downhill side (the soft mounded berm made from the soil excavated from the swales) is where both productive trees and sacrificial legumes are planted. I say sacrificial because you will chop and drop these over time to feed the productive trees. Eventually many of these will be phased out of the system or used for different purposes like kept to pollard/coppice standard for stick fuel for heating. The understory on both sides should also contain nitrogen-fixers to build soil.
--you have a fair amount of land so I would put in larger swales. Consider the size of your watershed (the water coming into your property) and size accordingly. You might get a copy of Brad Lancaster's "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, Vol 2" which is all about earthworks, sizing earthworks for rain events, etc. You do want to try to get them right the first time - and you can hand dig them (or get a machine to do it).
--I'm not sure about putting huglekultur as the "berm" side. This was brought up in Geoff's online PDC and he discouraged it because, as he kept saying, swales are "tree growing systems" (and thus ecosystem restoration systems) - not "veggie garden systems".
--it goes without saying that swales should follow contour on the property
--you shouldn't put in swales if your slope is 17 degrees or more as they will cause instability - instead plant steeper slopes in trees.
--the distance between swales is dependent on what you want to do with the land in between and which aspect you're facing. If you're facing north (in the northern hemisphere) then putting swales in every 40 ft or so and growing forest would probably be your best bet. If facing the sun side (south) and you want to have veggie gardens in all that nicely hydrated area in between the swales, you need to account for the height of the trees on the swale system and their shadows and space the swales accordingly. Say if you plant a tree who's mature height is 50 ft, you may want 100 ft between swales so the shadow doesn't completely shade out your beds. (this is dependent upon climate - in the desert I WANT trees to shade my veggie areas).

Anyway, I think you have an AWESOME opportunity and wish you the very best of luck. Please keep us posted on what you decide.

Chris, take some time to watch this series on swales and keyline design. I think you will see what I am getting at.

THANK you Jen and Miles, excellent information, and yet it just raises more questions!!! Isn't that always the way...

Jen and Miles: I would like to make this area suitable for growing fruit trees, I have plenty of veggie garden. Some areas of the land slope more gradually than others, so some parts might be slightly steeper than 17 degrees. There is a forest there now: lots of young but tall trees with not so much underbrush. There are lots of drainage ditches that I thought were called "cuts," but which Darren, in his very helpful video series, (thanks miles!) refers to as a "runnel." There are many of these cut into the landscape draining towards the creek bed. This is where I get confused: these cuts are running perpendicular to the contour, whereas the Swales run parallel to contour. How do I mix and mingle Swales and the "runnels?" Should I put a pond in the runnel, which then spits overflow into a swale? Should I block the runnel with rocks to divert it into a swale? Jen, you mention using nitrogen fixers, etc. in conjunction with Swales...I used seedballs to cover my useless sod lawn with a winter cover crop, would it be beneficial to use seedballs to get a cover crop established on this land in preparation for digging swales? Or is that only for after they are dug...

The biggest obstacle to planning this out in my mind is the order to go about it all. Do I need to clear this land before digging Swales and ponds? Is it worth attempting any of this by hand, or should I plan everything out and just bite the bullet and call in the Cats and a steam shovel?

Darren shows something really cool where he puts a pond in the highest saddle, then pipes it into a drainage ditch which feeds ponds on lower saddles and irrigates the land underneath. That's SERIOUSLY freaking cool, and exactly what I would like to do, somehow incorporating the rainwater and gray water that is currently being unutilized.

You guys got the little grey cells between my ears working, thanks for all your help, and please offer up more input!!


P.s. The interesting thing is, I can't find info anywhere on the web of people "reviving" a dry creek bed. The neighbor tells me (I just purchased this property) that the creek has been dry over 30 years. My main priority I suppose is just to get this land rocking and rollin for some fruit trees, but I'd like to bring this old creek back if I can (I'm a dreamer!)
Oh and miles: is the tool He is using in that video the yeomans key line plow? I googled it and it looked like something a tractor pulled, is this just a hand held version? Basically it's a tiller that doesn't rotate the soil from bottom to top?
An idea I had after reading a lot about Swales and hugelkultur: would burying logs under the sand in the creek bed help it absorb water soaked in by the Swales instead of just draining out through the ground? I could haul manure and stuff out there to make a gley layer, just wondering if the logs might serve a similar function
Chris, sorry it took so long to get back to you, I was hoping some others would lend you some ideas too.
My property is heavily wooded like yours so I have to cut out trees to do any earth works.
It looks like you might need to come up with an over all plan first. Think it all through...If I do this what will happen..if that, then what.
I found a lot of good ideas in Darrens video also. So I think you have answered your own questions. Build ponds and run swales on contour, just as he shows.
The yoemans plow makes deep cuts,depending on the blade lengths, into the soil . They are used on contour and allow water to soak into the soil. Look around, there are several videos about them also.
Burying logs in the creek is one of the things I have been doing. I create brush and log dams. They slowly fill in with sand and leaves and back up water, which also helps let the water soak in.
To make the creek run again will probably take everyone in the drainage doing the same thing as you. Any rain that falls and runs down the creek should rather, be allowed to soak in.
This creates a large sponge and over time the water will slowly trickle out of that sponge ,rather than run down stream.
This is why beaver are so important to watersheds.
That creek has a good size and as of such even with the best changes on your 1 to 6 acre site it will not flow, unless everyone upstream and long it does the same and increase infiltration.

If possible get rid of the runnels they are sending water downhill fast (flood) vs pooling it on contour and letting it soak in for the trees/water table/year round creek

You are going to have mayor tree roots to digg out by hand, but if you are up to it give it a chance.
You can also use a chain saw to cut down the trees and lay them on contour.

Work in small chunks. Start at the top of the property and build a long swales.
Then promptly cover the area with cover crops, like daikon radish, bush beans, perennial legume fixers, etc.

S Bengi wrote:
You are going to have mayor tree roots to digg out by hand, but if you are up to it give it a chance.

I think you might want to leave those roots in the ground. As they rot they will provide a pathway for water to infiltrate.

Do you know when the creek dried up? Did someone cut down lots of trees above that area because is looks fairly well forested.
In creating his food forest, he is going to have to destroy the fungal network to digg planting holes and swales/huglekulture/etc.
If he uses machinery he is going to have to compact the soil to a certain extent.
To cut down the trees he is going to have to use a axe or a chainsaw both of which used fossil fuel to create and possible to operate.

And to build a swale on contour you are going to have to cut down trees and also cut out the root system, ditto for even just planting holes for bareroot trees.

Either the above or have someone cut down acres of possible rainforest to provide us with wheat, rice, banana, etc, etc.

To somewhat mitigate the initial "damage" we could turn the trees into wood chip to help the fungal network.
6ft deep daikon radishes to open up the soil, and other such cover crops.

Cj Verde wrote:
S Bengi wrote:
You are going to have mayor tree roots to digg out by hand, but if you are up to it give it a chance.

I think you might want to leave those roots in the ground. As they rot they will provide a pathway for water to infiltrate.

Do you know when the creek dried up? Did someone cut down lots of trees above that area because is looks fairly well forested.
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