Arroyo Erosion Control and Swale Building Project

When our organization bought the property that our Eco-Regenerative Learning Center is located on, we inherited a serious erosion problem, a deep, steep-sided arroyo, that threatens the main road into our community. This arroyo divides our land in two making one part hard to access. It was the building of the road that caused this problem. Water flowing down from uphill was channeled into a culvert to go under the road. This concentration of water flow started the erosion. We approached the NRCS for help, but we were told there was nothing they could do. In the two years that we have owned the property we have noticed the arroyo cut has grown by about 10 feet. At this current rate of erosion, we have just a couple years left before the main road is threatened. We feel it is our civic responsibility to the community as well as to the environment to fix this problem.

Arroyo at the Eco-Regenerative Learning Center

County Road Threatened by Erosion

We also wish to re-hydrate the soil on which the Eco-Regenerative Learning Center is located to maximize vegetative growth by digging swales on contour. At the Learning Center we keep water harvesting and erosion control as a main focus. We permanently post for all to see Brad Lancaster’s “8 Priciples of Successful Rainwater Harvesting.” Principle number 5 is “Spread, slow and infiltrate the flow of water into the soil.” This is what swales do. There are numerous examples throughout the world of how digging swales on contour can transform the landscape from dry and erosion prone to a green oasis. Our property is ideal for swales because it has a slope steep enough for water to want to flow but not so steep that we need to worry about swale failure. Building these swales will collect just enough water to allow low water need plants to thrive. We wish to then plant some of these low water perennial plants that can be harvested possibly even as a source of income for locals. Some examples of these plants are the Crandall Black currant, a drought tolerant American variety of currant, Aronia Berry, and numerous medicinal herbs.

Example of a Swale Capturing and Storing Water in the Ground

Swale Under Construction

We are avid followers of Permaculture Design at the Learning Center. There is a saying in the Permaculture community - “Turn Problems into Solutions.” The problem, too much water coming onto the land at a concentrated point, can be turned into a solution, directing that excess water into the system of swales we wish to build to re-hydrate the land. Sending that water into the swales would “spread, slow and infiltrate the flow of water into the soil” per Successful Rainwater Harvesting Principle number 5.

Proposed Swale Plan at the Eco-Regenerative Learning Center

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The initial layout on this map is based on contour maps and from knowing the lay of the land. Before any digging can begin, the layout of the swales must be verified with a water level. The swales will be dug using a rented mini-excavator. We do not wish to use anything larger in fear of doing damage to the existing vegetation. After the swales are dug, we will fine-tune with rakes and then adding a mulch of straw to help retain water until vegetation can get re-established.