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Swales not filling  RSS feed

 
Adam Tennant
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Hi,

Last summer I installed three Swales. For some reason they are not filling. We just had about an inch of rain and they are just wet. What would be some factors that would cause this? The grade is not much at all but I think it should be enough. Trying to trouble shoot. Any advice would be appreciated.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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If you've got good infiltration, this isn't a problem—it is something to be happy about. The purpose of a swale, first and foremost, is to slow, spread and sink water into your soil. If rain water is sinking in before it even gets to the swale, that's fantastic. In the end, you are capturing that moisture and putting into the soil.

Are you seeing any evidence of run-off elsewhere? If not, don't worry. Yours may be a "100 year swale", built to capture that rare heavy rain event where the ground becomes so saturated that water runs down and fills your swale.

Perhaps the only way you'll really know what is going on is to stand out on your field the next time there is a big rain storm and actually watch to see if water is, in fact, running down into your swale. I would imagine that some is, but that it is quickly wicked into the ground.

Just out of curiosity, do you have sandy soil?
 
Adam Tennant
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Thanks for the reply. That's what I was hoping for. There is one place where I get some runoff. It is a place between one of my Swales where I couldn't dig because of a water line. I've been meaning to build a berm to direct the runoff into the swale.

As far as my soil, I have clay.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Clay would generally be slow to infiltrate water --- the fine particle size. So you must have great infiltration if your swales aren't filling up.

Good for you.

I assume if you've got great infiltration, you've got a healthy biome with lots of mulch, plants, and good soil aggregation. Clay will hold that water for a long time.
 
Adam Tennant
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Actually...all I have between my Swales is grass. I only began my permaculture adventure a year ago. I bought a house on 1.15 acres with absolutely no trees. Since then I have done a ton of work to my Swales, planting 30+ trees (production and support). Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do anything in between my Swales. Two jobs and a family of six. Lol

I have been taking a permaculture course for the past two months and we will be having a workday out here next Saturday. My instructor has a really good laser level so maybe we will see if I dug my Swales correctly. Hoping for good infiltration but after seeing all the water gathered at the foundation of my house I can see it is definitely running.
 
Casie Becker
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Don't underestimate the grassland biology. If it wasn't inundated with chemicals your might actually be at a fair starting place for your soil. Grass pumps a lot of organic carbon back into the ground. If you allow 'weeds' to populate your grass, you're already well on your way to a soil building polyculture that will manage itself while you direct your energy elsewhere.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Marco Banks wrote:Yours may be a "100 year swale",


My check dams were in place for about 5 years before we had a runoff event. Then we had a second event a year later. Still waiting for the next.
 
Adam Tennant
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Good stuff. Thanks yall
 
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