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To me, the permaculture system of forests and ponds seems the most efficient and stable for food production, and to my eye, the most beautiful as a place to live. This is what I want to build, but I don't know if it is possible or appropriate for my climate. I'm in a cool winter, hot summer, periodically droughty and periodically flooding region. This piece of land is in a small side valley of the valley of one of the major rivers in the region, which would count as a creek in most parts of the world except when it floods, when the level may rise 30-50 feet from the non-flooding river level. Our land has two seasonal creeks which meet on it, draining hundreds of acres. Some neighbors upstream have ponds, but I suspect all of these go dry in drought. There is no live water on our place, though we have at least six species of amphibians living here. The land is a total of 20 acres, mostly forest, with about 5 acres of meadow. An old quarry cuts across the hillside to the East of the house and animal area.

Is it possible in this situation to put in enough water harvesting earthworks to capture sufficient water to have permanent small ponds? I would love a fish pond, a pond for the wild ducks and other water birds to visit.

Have any of you permies successfully created a forests and ponds system on a dry property?
land2016.jpg
[Thumbnail for land2016.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Examples of forests and ponds systems:

http://geofflawton.com/videos/cold-climate-permaculture/

https://vimeo.com/158306671
 
Tyler Ludens
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How about in a wet climate? Anybody here on permies building a forest and ponds system in any kind of climate?

A small forest and ponds design: http://geofflawton.com/videos/5-acre-abundance-on-a-budget/
 
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I'm with you Tyler. I'm looking for examples as my area is pretty close to what you've described. We have occasional snow in the winter with temps dropping to 20s some nights and VERY hot (110°) and dry summers with 3-10 year drought periods in between monsoon (el Niño) flood years.

My attempt at a pond has been pretty unsuccessful as far as naturally holding water. I'm going to use bentonite when I have the shape roughly how I want it. One thing I've been told is to make the pond overall smaller, but deeper in dry regions to avoid evaporation.

My neighbor has a very large pond that goes dry by August, but by his description of how he spread the bentonite I'm not sure it was done correctly.

Hopefully I don't have to use a liner.

Look up Tom Ward's videos on Keyline water systems on YouTube. He uses liners in many of his projects because of the soil conditions and humidity of southern Oregon being so similar to here... Rocky... Dry... Good for floods, bad for ponds.
 
Tyler Ludens
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According to the soil survey, our soil isn't good for ponds, but some of the neighbors have ponds that do hold water during wet periods. I'm wondering how one knows if the property gets enough potential water to hydrate the landscape sufficiently to keep ponds full once water harvesting structures are in place. It might be one of those "You can't know until you try" things. During floods we get insane amount of water passing through the land, but I wonder how effective we'll be at diverting it.

This pic shows how runoff enters the 20 acres:
drainage.jpg
[Thumbnail for drainage.jpg]
 
Andrew Morse
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Also check Michael Newby's thread about gleying ponds with pigs. I first saw this done by sepp holzer, but the concept is that wherever pigs like to wallow in the mud they leave a depression that holds water. Michael is in the same county as me although higher elevation. He likely has much lower temps and more snow runnof etc, but look at the soil he's starting with. Looks like a gravel quarry. Makes me very hopeful.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Mnewby's example is quite inspiring! Unfortunately we can't have pigs - there's a stupid deed restriction against them attached to the land, plus my husband absolutely forbids any more hoofed animals. He MIGHT be ok with ducks. http://geofflawton.com/videos/fixing-a-leaky-pond-with-ducks/
 
Andrew Morse
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That might be the best option anyway... I've read talked to a lot of people who say that pigs are very difficult to contain in a larger area without expensive hog panel fencing. Ducks don't need to be contained as much as protected from predators (like chickens). There was a cool video (I think it was called 4 acres and independence) by the PeakMoment channel where the guy's duck house was on the pond and they had to swim to access it. He said this eliminated most predators, because they are not quick to get in the water for a meal unless absolutely starving to death.
 
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With the money I spent building a pond where the soil isn't right for ponds, I could have 30,000 gallon capacity of rainwater collection. It still doesn't hold water. I'm hoping cows will do the job of a pig. Maybe in time it will hold more than 12".
 
Tyler Ludens
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Wayne, did you install swales and things to hydrate the landscape to feed the pond?

We've had 3 infiltration basins dug - just uncompacted shallow ponds, but there's one place I'm considering another basin where I'd really love to have a small pond.
basins.jpg
[Thumbnail for basins.jpg]
 
wayne fajkus
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Mines on a dry creek bed that flows with rain. All water flows into it without shaping. I did one rock dam to slow the flow upstream to get it down but so far water doesn't back up, it goes right thru it. The rock dam is granite scraps 3ft tall x 40ft long, then cedar trimmings added on top.

With texas we can have 6 month dry spells so having the pond not leak seems more important than slowing water flow. When he had 12" of rain last year the creek did flow for 6 weeks but the pond drained quicker than water entered.
 
Tyler Ludens
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It's possible with enough water harvesting earthworks the dry creeks might run longer. geoff lawton talks about Bill Mollison's old farm Tagari being dry when it was begun, but by the end of all the earthworkings, there were three two-inch pipes running continuously with water harvested on the property.

I wish there were some people here on permies who have built or are in the process of building the classic forests and ponds permaculture system and could discuss it here. Even though this is the classic system devised by Bill Mollison on his farm Tagari, it doesn't seem like many people here are emulating it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Anyone here on permies create a pond on a dry property by building swales or other rain harvesting structures?

 
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I built one with a road culvert diverting water to it if that counts. It was an absolute failure, but I can tell you why so you (and others) may learn from my mistake.

I did use native soil and did not haul anything in, HOWEVER I used an excavator to make the pond. This is the wrong machine for the job...a bulldozer is needed. That is because as the bulldozer drives around and pushes and shapes the pond, it smooths the soil with the blade and compacts the soil with its tracks.

Yes you read that right.

The tracks of a bulldozer allow soil and rocks to "lock" into place like a jigsaw puzzle. This is what gives the pond its strength. The smooth blade shaping the pond bottom is what gives it its sealing ability. By using an excavator like I did, I pretty much punched holes in its "lining". There is nothing wrong with using an excavator to dig out the soil, its just in the end you need a bulldozer to give you compaction and a smooth final shape.

Perhaps if I had used the right equipment it would have worked. It does fill with water every spring due to snow melt, but by August it is depleted.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, Travis!
 
Tyler Ludens
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What about springs? Has anyone here been able to get springs to appear on a dry property by installing swales or other water harvesting earthworks?

 
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Do you have sufficient elevation change to install a series of progressive ponds with drains? [Of course this necessitates having nearly water-tight ponds that don't leak at all, though they will still wick to some extent.]

It seems that you might be able to use that massive influx of runoff from uphill during the winter months to fill your ponds and progressively drain the uphill ones [used to grow feed] into the lower ones during the fish growing season.

Thus [going off my limited understanding of the climate in that region of Texas] come mid-may you might drain a top pond to top up each below it [filling and then overflowing to the next pond down] and repeat the process roughly once a month through the summer growing months to optimize production in the ponds that remain.

One interesting point about this method is that as evaporation rate increases through the summer, the number of ponds below to top up decreases, better enabling the drain-fills to keep up.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, Kyrt. It just seems strange to me that nobody on permies has tried to do this, at least who wants to talk about it. I thought a ton of people would have done it and been able to offer advice based on experience.

 
Kyrt Ryder
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Thank you, Kyrt. It just seems strange to me that nobody on permies has tried to do this, at least who wants to talk about it. I thought a ton of people would have done it and been able to offer advice based on experience.

My guess is most people on this site aren't thinking that far ahead [or even if they are they lack the resources to implement for the time being], they're happy if they manage to get one pond installed and even more happy if they manage to nurture it into a functional ecosystem.

In my own case my focus right now is on locking down all the education I need while finetuning the 5 acres I'm living on now as best I can without major investments and seeking out the farmland that's going to be my life's work.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have never known anyone to try and develop a spring or swale in a dry area, but I do know of many people that have pressed into service collectors that brought damp areas into productive watering facilities for livestock. Now I say all this because I live in Maine, and even though I live on a huge hill, there are brooks here with running water most of the time, so water is not that hard to obtain. However the NRCS does have a practice, and I have seen it done, where they use plastic pipe to bring together several damp areas into one big collector; usually a round concrete well casing about 4 feet in diameter and have the pipes fill up the well casing with water for livestock. It is not exactly what you are talking about, but does make marginal water into useful water.

A Permie could easily modify the idea by using hackmatack pipes instead of plastic if the idea of plastic pipes nauseated them, and they could use a wooden barrel for the main collector as well. And a hand pump or water screw could pull water from the well casing.

However, the USDA-NRCS also has conservation funding in place under the EQUIP Cost Share Program to drill conventional wells.
 
Travis Johnson
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I just read where Las Angeles spent 34 million dollars to dump 4 inch plastic balls in their reservoirs to help stop evaporation now that they are filling from snow melt again. They said in the article that they used the same plastic as milk jug bottles, so I wonder why permies in warm states such as yourself could not do the same thing. Milk bottle plastic is anti fungal and does not break down from UV light like other plastics. Even if it was just used in just the hottest months, it might retain a lot of otherwise lost water.

Wood obviously could be tried as well. I am just not sure what the resulting algae growth would do. It could be beneficial or detrimental depending upon what the Permie person wanted to do. A few floating pallets would be easy to get however.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Travis Johnson wrote:Milk bottle plastic....does not break down from UV light like other plastics

Do you perchance have a source for this? I've seen other people report that their milk jug cloches break down in UV quite quickly. [This is obviously predicated on the premise that these reports were accurate.]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Milk bottle plastic HDPE breaks down very quickly in UV.

There is UV-stabilied polyethylene available, which is different from milk bottle plastic.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:
My guess is most people on this site aren't thinking that far ahead


If I recall correctly, Lawton mentions in a video somewhere that after only four (4) years subsequent to rain harvesting structures/swales being installed, the land become fully saturated and you start to get the "watery wonderland" he mentions in some video or other (sorry, I've watched so many of his videos I can't keep them straight). That's not very far ahead to be thinking...

I'm going to try to achieve this watery wonderland with structures mostly built by hand, because I have only a small amount of $. I'll be following Brad Lancaster's suggestions for berms and basins and other hand built structures. I'm giving myself a 5-10 year schedule to complete this work. Goal: One small year-round pond.

It's probably not a really feasible goal, but it is a dream!

 
Kyrt Ryder
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Tyler Ludens wrote:If I recall correctly, Lawton mentions in a video somewhere that after only four (4) years subsequent to rain harvesting structures/swales being installed, the land become fully saturated and you start to get the "watery wonderland" he mentions in some video or other (sorry, I've watched so many of his videos I can't keep them straight). That's not very far ahead to be thinking...

I'm going to try to achieve this watery wonderland with structures mostly built by hand, because I have only a small amount of $. I'll be following Brad Lancaster's suggestions for berms and basins and other hand built structures. I'm giving myself a 5-10 year schedule to complete this work. Goal: One small year-round pond.

It's probably not a really feasible goal, but it is a dream!

And an excellent dream it is.

My question is weather this 'watery wonderland' he describes was in reference to Rainy Subtropical Australia [where although evaporation is high, they get 60+ inches of rainfall per year] or in a more Mediterranean climate like we're working with [mine being cooler and wetter than yours.]

If he was talking about the Rainy Subtropics, then there's a chance my location would achieve that watery wonderland in 4-ish years, but yours might take 10 or more.

No harm in working towards the dream though, just try to temper your expectations my friend.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm guessing it's more likely in a wetter climate, but our little bit of land is special in having a stupidly huge influx of water during flood. I calculated something like 1 million acre feet per hour passes through the lower part of our land during flood events. This happens every few years, washing out our driveway and peeling the pavement off the county road.

 
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Hi Tyler,

That's quite an interesting dream to have ponds in your climate. I think it might be difficult to realize, but maybe it's possible.

The amount of water you get in floods is incredible, but that's also a main reason why it's difficult to realize any type of earthworks on your property, because the next flood could very well wash out all work you do.

I have a few questions which might enable me to give you some ideas.
- during a typical flood, how many inches of rain fall during how many hours?
- could you draw a map with contour lines?
- could you indicate per arrow in the drainage.jpg image what the size of the catchment area is?
- you say your soil is not good for sealing ponds, I assume it has a great deal of sand then and not so much clay, is that correct?
- what is the subsoil like, any hardpan or otherwise impermeable layers? Is that the same on the entire property?

Without any of the above clear, my initial suggestions would be to not start with ponds, but with big swales where possible. In that way you can use your biggest reservoir, the soil, to store as much water as possible. However those swales cannot be build in areas that get too much waterflow, because they will be washed out if the flooding is too severe. (I also a see a similar problem with creating basins, too much waterflow will simply erode them away.) With more and more water stored in the ground, over a period of several floods, so several years, maybe in a decade you could think about ponds when you see your subsoil is sufficiently hydrated.

Still, if you could answer my questions above, maybe something can be thought out that might work.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Rene Nijstad wrote:The amount of water you get in floods is incredible, but that's also a main reason why it's difficult to realize any type of earthworks on your property, because the next flood could very well wash out all work you do.

Earthworks placed on the downhill side of a check dam should mitigate the force of this oncoming water, allowing it to fill the swale [and any attached ponds] and overflow over a massive [probably to the tune of 5 meters or more] sill way to continue down the line and eventually fill the next swale [and any ponds on it.]

Without any of the above clear, my initial suggestions would be to not start with ponds, but with big swales where possible. In that way you can use your biggest reservoir, the soil, to store as much water as possible. However those swales cannot be build in areas that get too much waterflow, because they will be washed out if the flooding is too severe. (I also a see a similar problem with creating basins, too much waterflow will simply erode them away.) With more and more water stored in the ground, over a period of several floods, so several years, maybe in a decade you could think about ponds when you see your subsoil is sufficiently hydrated.

Sounds like good advice to me, hydrating the soil before worrying about holding water aboveground.

Doesn't mean Tyler's plan might not work though, and it *does* mean that following it would delay Tyler's dream by- according to your estimates- about a decade.

Bear in mind that Tyler is already semi-retired [I don't know your exact age Ludi, forgive me if I have a false impression here.]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you Rene, I'll try to get that information organized. It might take a little while.

We probably can't do big swales other than the big swale that is the old quarry. We just don't have the $ for large earthworks besides these few small infiltration basins. Rain harvesting structures will probably have to be built by hand, by me, an over-50-year-old woman with some health problems. We're talkin' small scale stuff here, unfortunately.

The soil is clay but the soil survey claims it isn't good for ponds, I'll try to dig that out and get the exact wording.

Underlying the clayish prairie soil is a layer of limestone rock. Some areas the soil is several feet thick, other areas the limestone is at the surface. I'll try to fill in the map with details.

Thank you for your help!

 
Rene Nijstad
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OK Tyler, if you can get that info I can chew on it for a bit to see if something can be tried.

Kyrt, my concern is the severity of the flooding. It washes out the driveway and peels the main road. That's a lot of force that Tyler has to deal with. It means the water will wash away anything that isn't totally anchored in the ground. That said, with more info it might show some areas are easier to work with than others. Let's see what can be done.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's a guess at contours and drainage:

drainage1.jpg
[Thumbnail for drainage1.jpg]
 
Rene Nijstad
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Tyler, the house is on a hill I assume? The open corridor that runs roughly north to south is the main channel for the water flow? The east and west catchment area delivers sheetflow or does it have concentrations of water in gullies?
 
Tyler Ludens
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The house is not on a hill, the house is in a drainage. The main drainage is below the house along the road. The house is in a mid-slope position.
 
Rene Nijstad
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Wow Tyler, you're in a complicated and very interesting situation. If you could fill me in on my other questions I might get a good enough image to come up with some helpful thoughts. I'm about to go to bed, so I'll check in again tomorrow morning.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I looked up some numbers for flood rainfall in our locale. During floods, 12" per 24 hours is not unusual, but here are some historic flood totals from nearby and just upstream:

1978 46”

1998 31”

2002 45”

reference: http://www.gbra.org/documents/hazardmitigation/section06.pdf

Here's the descriptions of our soils from the soil survey.

The lower parts of the land: "Krum silty clay. This deep, gently sloping soil is on foot slopes of limestone hills. Typically, the surface layer of this soil is dark grayish brown silty clay 16 inches thick. The next layer is brown silty clay to a depth of 42 inches. The subsoil is light yellowish brown silty clay to a depth of 60 inches and contains films, threads, soft bodies, and concretions of calcium carbonate. This layer also contains small fragments of limestone." Soil is described as "hard to pack" for dikes and levees.

Upper parts of the land: Doss-Brackett association, undulating. This association consists of shallow, loamy, and clayey soils on uplands. Typically, the surface layer is dark grayish brown silty clay 11 inches thick. The next layer is brown silty clay to a depth of 18 inches. The underlying material is white, soft, chalky earth." Soil is too thin for dikes and levee construction.

I would say in general our soils are shallower than these descriptions, and there has been tremendous erosion. Soil survey is from 1979.

Let me know if you need more info. Thank you!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's another map showing the location of the two seasonal creeks and the old quarry:

drainagefeatures.jpg
[Thumbnail for drainagefeatures.jpg]
 
Rene Nijstad
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That's an enormous amount of water that flows over your property. I did a quick calculation and even with 12" of rain in 24 hours you talk about more than 7 cubic yards per SECOND that has to find its way on average. At its peak it can easily be double that or more, assuming the rain will vary in intensity during these events. In a 46" event it's almost 4 times that. The force of that much water is tremendous and not many constructions can handle that. The amount of erosion would indeed be huge as well.

To figure out what can be done depends most on observation during a flood.

The most vigorous water flow will probably be in the creeks and other open areas. The only thing that can be done there is gabions, tightly packed stone walls in strong metal wire cases. Loose stones will wash away during extreme flooding. To build a gabion you can work with medium size rocks, as long as you can make sure they get packed tight in the casing. The gabion also needs to be wide enough to have enough weight to handle the pressure of the water and long enough to get properly anchored in the sides of the creek. It needs to be banana shaped to make sure the water will stay in the creek and won't try to find its way around the gabion. At the downstream side of the gabion you'd need an apron of rocks sufficiently anchored in the ground so it cannot wash out. Without an apron the water flow will create a big hole below the gabion. It's quite a bit of work, but it will help stop the creek bed eroding. It can also lead to seasonal springs when the buildup of material behind the gabion can hold enough water.

You can try to identify parts of the property that do flood, but don't show a lot of flow, these area are suitable to dig infiltration ponds and you can reasonably expect deposits of silt and other materials in such areas. You can even try to create standing water where there is flow, but at low velocity. That can be done by brush dams or low earth walls, or depressions as the basins you're planning.

The main important thing is to never build anything other than gabions in the areas where the waterflow is concentrated. Where you have low velocity water flow you can try some earthworks, but please make sure the water can always keep on flowing so you don't create places where too much pressure can build up.

Based on the soil report I think you can dig ponds, but they will loose the captured water relatively fast. Only a plastic liner, or bringing in good quality clay from outside might help, but then you still have to deal with evaporation during the long dry periods. Another complicating factor is that the soils are shallow. Digging all the way to the rocky underground will create leaks between the soil and the rocks, so that won't really work either.

In closing, I don't know your property, so what I wrote are general thoughts based on how I understand your information. Any other info or observations you might have could open other possibilities. I hope this helps you to figure out what options are possible.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, Rene. I really appreciate that you've taken the time to look at this. I think I'll revise my goal to: Year-round spring flow.


 
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I don't know if it's any consolation, but that was the historical water source in Texas. We have very few, if any natural lakes in the region, but we used to have hundreds (probably thousands, actually) of year round springs.

I was thinking about this topic yesterday, and it occurred to me that the LCRA and similar projects around the state are actually large scale rain water catchment systems. None of these lakes are natural. So they're an example of large scale permaculture by our government.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I wish that were true, but large bodies of water like that evaporate pretty horribly, and small structures are much more efficient (but not the massive money-makers for a few people that reservoirs are). I wish the state could invest in outreach to encourage developers and individuals to implement small-scale rain harvest earthworks as described in Brad Lancaster's books. I guess we can do our own little private part and hope eventually it becomes the norm.

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

You're right about the springs, though. It would be wonderful to bring them back!

PA Yeomans writes about the inefficiency of large reservoirs in his book "Water for Every Farm."
 
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