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Series of ponds along seasonal stream  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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My property has a seasonal stream that runs through it. This stream comes from a large wetland area and stormwater pond off my property. Due to this there is a fair bit of water from fall till sometime in summer. Currently, there is still water flowing and much of the area around the stream is wet. I know it goes dry but I'm not sure when since I moved to this property last September. But there are water loving plants (rushes and others) growing along the channel so despite it going dry the water table must be fairly high. Also, just downstream (200ft at most) of my property is a wetland n large pond  that the stream flows into and it stays wet year-round. The stream is fully exposed to the sun and currently flows through old horse pasture areas. I'm going to be planting trees around it overtime.

What I'm most interested in doing with the stream is installing a series of natural ponds along its channel. My soil is mostly clay but down along the stream I do find gravels n such. Looking at the well log I think this gravel is part of a 15ft thick compacted gravel n sand that the clay sits on - the stream flows through a gully and the clay is mostly at the top. Back during the last iceage my property was under a huge glacial lake which is why there is the thick compacted gravel and sand layer with a thick clay layer on top of it. Based on this and the well log info I think this gravel and sand layer is fairly impermeable - well log reports some water above this layer but our aquifer is below this layer. As far as regulations go I have talked with the state and county agencies and since this stream is not on their records I don't need any permits. According to them it is just an old pasture that gets seasonally wet.

So my question is how practical do you all think it would be to install a series of natural ponds along this seasonal stream? Assuming it is practical do you all think it would be a positive thing to do? What are some things I should be careful about before diving into this project?

Also, I'm planning on just digging the ponds by hand overtime to keep costs down and keep it manageable. Just do a pond at a time and eventually over several years I would have a series of ponds.

Thanks!
 
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Dig one pond.  Leave it for a year or so, watch it over the seasons.
See how it develops, watch the flora and fauna.  If it seems healthy and works out, then dig another!


 
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Depending on where you live, you may not get permission to alter the stream. Check with local authorities before doing anything.
 
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Location: Mariposa, California, USDA zone 7b
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It is a wonderful idea to make a series of ponds in the dry creek bed.  sepp holzer's "Desert or Paradise" book has some detailed information about how to do it.  I am making a series of ponds in a valley that has runoff water from my roof.  I made the first one last year.  I rented an excavator for 2 days to make it.  The biggest lesson that I learned was not to make the sides of the deep spot too steep.  The clay dam held well through some hard rains.  I have two pigs working it now to make it water tight.  Here are a few pictures.
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Daron Williams
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Thank you for sharing the pictures! Looks like a great project. I'm still planning my ponds - getting delayed due to other more urgent projects. I think I'm going to try building the furthest upstream pond in the fall as a test. Due to the landscape there it will be smaller than some of my planned downstream ponds.
 
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Here's the basin we had dug at the top of our place where one of our two seasonal creeks enters the property.  Because we want the water to infiltrate this has not been sealed as a pond, but it will hold water for awhile during wet weather.  The main danger of ponds in a seasonal creek is flood-waters blowing out the dams.  Our neighbors upstream built a dam in the lower creek which blew out during the first big storm.

Leaky weirs (brush dams) may be a better solution in some creeks, and that's what we're putting in our lower creek:  https://permies.com/t/51421/Creek-repair-brush-dams
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I dug a pond to the side of a seasonal stream. During the spring flood, water pours over the Earth Dam and fills the pond. When the stream goes away, the pond retains water. I made no alteration to the stream bed.
 
pollinator
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Robert Pavlis wrote:Depending on where you live, you may not get permission to alter the stream. Check with local authorities before doing anything.


I second that.  Here it is illegal without prior DNR approval and they rarely give it from what I'm told.

That goes for even digging a pond that in no way impacts any existing ponds, streams, etc.
 
Daron Williams
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Todd Parr wrote:
Robert Pavlis wrote:Depending on where you live, you may not get permission to alter the stream. Check with local authorities before doing anything.


I second that.  Here it is illegal without prior DNR approval and they rarely give it from what I'm told.

That goes for even digging a pond that in no way impacts any existing ponds, streams, etc.


I talked with the state officials already and since my stream is not recorded on any of their records or the counties records and does not have fish they don't care. Not even classified as a wetland. For my regular job I have to go through the permitting process for a lot of my restoration projects. Due to this I have gotten to know the people who issue the permits fairly well so I just chatted with them off the record to see what I would need and at this time I wont need anything. This is partially due to the lack of documentation for the seasonal stream and also due to the proposed scale of my ponds. They will be small enough that they don't cause any red flags to go up. I'm going for a series of smaller ponds instead of one or two large pond for this reason.

My main concern is that as I improve the stream it will get on their radar since I want to make it have surface water year round  (stream bed is still wet this year despite no surface flow and no rain for a month or so). Plus the ponds will create nice wetlands. All good for my long-term goals and wildlife but could trigger some regulations that would limit what I want to do with the land. Due to this I'm starting small and trying to time things do that I finish a few other projects first so that they will be grandfathered in as accepted activities if the stream starts being recorded and monitored.

In my area the wetland rules state that activities already in place before the wetland designation was established can continue but new activities are limited. I'm also documenting everything I do because artificial ponds and the associated wetlands are regulated differently than natural ones. Given that I'm using permaculture techniques that can look like a natural system I want to be able to prove that I designed it and implemented it myself.

I'm also planning to use a no dig (well no more than two or three wheelbarrows worth or digging) method to create the ponds that mimics how beavers create ponds. I have used this technique successfully in one of my restoration projects and I just finished reading a large report on the method in other areas of the Western United States. I will be posting info and pictures as I move forward. But since this method does not need an excavator it will be more likely to stay under the radar. Downside of this method is that I'm limited to ponds that are 4 to 5 feet deep at their deepest end and likely less deep over most of the pond. I'm also limited in where they can be placed since the spot requires the right topography.

The other thing is that aerial photos (these are what people often call satellite images for maps but are actually done by plane as part of the NAIP program) that are often used to tract land use changes and determine where wetlands are and where small streams are located are not taken every year. They are done on a rotation - Washington State got a new set of aerial photos in the summer of 2015, the previous was 2013 and before that 2011. So next year we should get new photos that were taken this year. That means that the next set would likely be taken in 2019. This creates little windows of time when land use changes are likely to not be caught unless a neighbor calls it in or it is easily visible from the road.

Knowing this cycle gives some time to make a series of changes over a two year time period so when the new photos come out they will appear to have been done at once. No easy way to tell what was done first. I don't want to hide what I'm doing but I also want space to complete the projects because people might have trouble understanding what the end result will be.

Thanks for the warnings and it is important to be careful. I have modified my plans to take into account the regulations and try to find a path that works with them. Based on my conversations with the regulators I think I'm good to go. But I will start small so if there is an issue it will be easy to change course.
 
Daron Williams
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Here's the basin we had dug at the top of our place where one of our two seasonal creeks enters the property.  Because we want the water to infiltrate this has not been sealed as a pond, but it will hold water for awhile during wet weather.  The main danger of ponds in a seasonal creek is flood-waters blowing out the dams.  Our neighbors upstream built a dam in the lower creek which blew out during the first big storm.

Leaky weirs (brush dams) may be a better solution in some creeks, and that's what we're putting in our lower creek:  https://permies.com/t/51421/Creek-repair-brush-dams


I have been following your brush dams Tyler. They seem really cool and it is great to see how they are changing the stream bed at your place. The structures I want to try will be similar but designed to more closely mimic beaver dams and to hold more water. This is being done more and more for restoration projects by groups in the Western United States and I think it will be a good fit for my place. I'm hoping mine will create a pond between 4 and 5 feet deep in one spot and then a series of ponds/wetlands that are 1 to 3 feet deep. The shallow ones will be planted with wetland plants so they will be mostly shaded and the larger ones will have some open water habitat.
 
Daron Williams
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I dug a pond to the side of a seasonal stream. During the spring flood, water pours over the Earth Dam and fills the pond. When the stream goes away, the pond retains water. I made no alteration to the stream bed.


I was thinking about doing that too and there is one area that is fairly flat where the stream floods every winter that I might dig some small ponds in to create frog habitat areas. Just in the side areas and I might use the soil I dig out to create some raised beds around the small ponds.
 
Todd Parr
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Daron Williams wrote:

The other thing is that aerial photos (these are what people often call satellite images for maps but are actually done by plane as part of the NAIP program) that are often used to tract land use changes and determine where wetlands are and where small streams are located are not taken every year.


Sounds like you need a shit-ton of camo netting
 
Daron Williams
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Todd Parr wrote:
Daron Williams wrote:

The other thing is that aerial photos (these are what people often call satellite images for maps but are actually done by plane as part of the NAIP program) that are often used to tract land use changes and determine where wetlands are and where small streams are located are not taken every year.


Sounds like you need a shit-ton of camo netting


Lol! One way to get around the rules
 
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We're looking at doing something similar with our creek this fall when we have a dry bit ... at least it was mostly dry for 2 months or so last year with only pockets of water still left. Since we can build whatever ponds we want and our neighbor completely reformed his portion of the creek I don't see a problem with us messing about with it. We're not going to move the banks, simply create a few dams and deepen the bed behind them to hold water longer. We also have some erosion going on because of what the neighbor did so we're planning on building some swales that gradually fall into the creek and were thinking that a good deep-ish pond at that end would help keep water in the creek longer too. My only concern, being totally ignorant of stream formation, is that we might penetrate the subsoil layer of clay and end up with a bigger dry issue than we started with. Don't know if that's even possible to do.
 
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I've done pond digging by hand its a waste of time. if your time is worth anything machine is so much cheeper.
 
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Like most things, that depends on the specifics of the situation.

A 5' high by 100' long dam, and you have a day job or full-time duties elsewhere? Sure, spend the money and have the pond in a week. A 2' high by 50' long dam, and you are retired or have kids who can help, and no particular deadline? Exercise is good for you.

My father, from retirement on, and a decade before that at least, dug two or three five-gallon buckets of gravel from the creekbed and wheelbarrowed it to wherever driveways needed firming, every day that the ground was not frozen. He created a long stretch of solid roadways over his lifetime, and it was cheaper and more pleasant than going to the gym.

 
Daron Williams
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Bernie Farmer wrote:... My only concern, being totally ignorant of stream formation, is that we might penetrate the subsoil layer of clay and end up with a bigger dry issue than we started with. Don't know if that's even possible to do.


I was worried about this with my site. My property has a deep clay layer and then a hard naturally cemented layer and I was a bit worried that if I dug into this I could hit the aquifer under it. This could cause issues of contaminates reaching the aquifer and potentially causing other issues. By building up instead of digging down I'm hoping that this will work and let me create my ponds with less overall risk. I also think this will be easier than digging the ponds in terms of work.
 
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If you have a seasonal stream then you should be just fine, or at least for the interim. I live on a hill where my farm is literally divided in half by two watersheds, and thus every stream I have is "intermittent" or seasonal in our speak. That means it is not regulated for the most part. Now I say "most part" because I can log any tree I want on my farm, bulldoze stumps in the wettest parts, even build roads...as long as it is not for farming. As soon as I say I am going to farm it, it falls under the Swampbuster's Act and there severe penalties can be imposed; by the USDA, the Dept of Environmental Protection (state), Environmental Protection Agency (Federal) and now the Army Corp of Engineers. I makes NO SENSE, but that is how it is. I think you will be just fine though.

I will say this though, your ideas on aerial photography might be right, but the Feds are now implementing LIDAR, which is a laser beams that is scanned over the terrain to be able to map things on 2 foot contours instead of 20 foot contours. My understanding is, they did 100 miles from the coastline first because they were concerned about rising seawaters and flooding, but soon it will be everywhere. That means a helicopter will soon be flying over head. But if I sound negative, I am not. I have LIDAR here because I am but 15 miles from the coast, and it is absolutely great. A lot of farm planning can be done with that tool.

I have no opinion either way regarding the building of ponds by hand or machine. On one hand I admit I have built a lot of ponds, but none by hand, but one thing my wife and I do is pace ourselves. Breaking things down into manageable daily activities helps. Like with shearing sheep. Shearing 300 all at once is overwhelming and requires paying someone. Shearing 5 sheep a day by ourselves means a 300 sheep flock and be sheared in 2 months time. It also means us pocketing $1800. Or put another way; 6 months worth of car payments. If someone was to pay a car payment for 6 months, people would jump at the chance, yet that is what pacing yourself does.

The hard part is discipline. My suggestion to you Daron is to NOT put it off, but rather just do (3) wheel barrows per day. No more...but start. Once a project is started, the hard part is often done, and there is this sort of synergy to keep the project rolling. Then just keep doing it. (3) wheel barrows a day, at 1/4 cubic yard per wheel barrow, is 1.25 cubic yards per week for a 5 day week. At the end of the year you would have moved 5 truck loads of fill for your pond, and still have taken weekend breaks.

I practice what I preach. I was having difficulty managing forest time, family time, and farming; so now I work in my woodlot (4) hours every day and then stop. That gives me (4) cords of wood, which at $70 a cord is $280 per day. Then I do farm stuff for a few hours, then I spend time with family. In a given day I have spent 4 hours in our woodlot, 4 hours doing farm stuff, and 4 hours with my family. At the end of the year that is 1460 hours with each entity of my life. Surely that will reap rewards on all fronts.
 
Daron Williams
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Travis Johnson wrote:If you have a seasonal stream then you should be just fine, or at least for the interim. I live on a hill where my farm is literally divided in half by two watersheds, and thus every stream I have is "intermittent" or seasonal in our speak. That means it is not regulated for the most part. Now I say "most part" because I can log any tree I want on my farm, bulldoze stumps in the wettest parts, even build roads...as long as it is not for farming. As soon as I say I am going to farm it, it falls under the Swampbuster's Act and there severe penalties can be imposed; by the USDA, the Dept of Environmental Protection (state), Environmental Protection Agency (Federal) and now the Army Corp of Engineers. I makes NO SENSE, but that is how it is. I think you will be just fine though.


When my wife and I purchased our property we had it removed from being officially considered an agricultural property. If we had kept it we would have needed to have a farm plan, and made a minimum of $5,000 a year from the farm. Plus it could have caused issues that you mentioned - but since we are not selling any of the food we grow at least not for a while we should be good to go.

I will say this though, your ideas on aerial photography might be right, but the Feds are now implementing LIDAR, which is a laser beams that is scanned over the terrain to be able to map things on 2 foot contours instead of 20 foot contours. My understanding is, they did 100 miles from the coastline first because they were concerned about rising seawaters and flooding, but soon it will be everywhere. That means a helicopter will soon be flying over head. But if I sound negative, I am not. I have LIDAR here because I am but 15 miles from the coast, and it is absolutely great. A lot of farm planning can be done with that tool.


Yup, LIDAR is a great tool and has been done a couple times in my area with the latest being finished up this year. Generally there are at least 5 years between LIDAR flights and since it is being finished up this year it should be done before I go to crazy with my ponds.

I have no opinion either way regarding the building of ponds by hand or machine. On one hand I admit I have built a lot of ponds, but none by hand, but one thing my wife and I do is pace ourselves. Breaking things down into manageable daily activities helps. Like with shearing sheep. Shearing 300 all at once is overwhelming and requires paying someone. Shearing 5 sheep a day by ourselves means a 300 sheep flock and be sheared in 2 months time. It also means us pocketing $1800. Or put another way; 6 months worth of car payments. If someone was to pay a car payment for 6 months, people would jump at the chance, yet that is what pacing yourself does.

The hard part is discipline. My suggestion to you Daron is to NOT put it off, but rather just do (3) wheel barrows per day. No more...but start. Once a project is started, the hard part is often done, and there is this sort of synergy to keep the project rolling. Then just keep doing it. (3) wheel barrows a day, at 1/4 cubic yard per wheel barrow, is 1.25 cubic yards per week for a 5 day week. At the end of the year you would have moved 5 truck loads of fill for your pond, and still have taken weekend breaks.

I practice what I preach. I was having difficulty managing forest time, family time, and farming; so now I work in my woodlot (4) hours every day and then stop. That gives me (4) cords of wood, which at $70 a cord is $280 per day. Then I do farm stuff for a few hours, then I spend time with family. In a given day I have spent 4 hours in our woodlot, 4 hours doing farm stuff, and 4 hours with my family. At the end of the year that is 1460 hours with each entity of my life. Surely that will reap rewards on all fronts.


I agree - the biggest issue I'm having is that there are too many projects that all need to be done. Currently, my priorities have been establishing what I refer to as the buffers. These are a mix of hugelkulture beds and non-hugelkulture hedgerows that I'm planting along some of the boundaries of my property in order to create buffers between me and my neighbors and along a busy road. This takes a fair bit of time due to the workload associated with building a large hugel bed or the workload associated with mulching a strip of land before planting it. I have found that if I skip the mulching phase or just mulch around the plants I have too high of mortality or too slow of growth rate. The areas I have mulched are all thriving and have not needed any watering. I'm also working to remove about 0.4 acres of blackberries on my property - it has all mostly been cut down at least once with several areas cut a couple of times. Now I'm working on doing regular cuttings (whenever the regrowth gets to a foot in length) with the idea that it will stress the plants out enough that each year there will be less and less around. I'm also planting the areas to create shade. Finally, I'm also working on building an outdoor kitchen/living area - this year just a patio but still lots of work and I'm going to be mulching and replacing my existing lawn.

So all in all a lot of work but I'm making good progress on it all. I get work done in the morning before I go to my 40hr a week job and then also some evenings when I get home. Plus a weekend day when it works with my families schedule. The ponds are an additional project that will take a lot of effort and a lot of time. This is a big reason why I'm planning on doing them one at a time and starting with the smallest one first. It will also give me a chance to learn and observe how the ponds function so by the time I get to the largest pond I should have worked through any problems that show up. Hopefully, I can knock out the buffer projects relatively soon and the lawn mulching/replacement which would free up some time!

Thanks for the thoughts!
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