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Wakarusa Valley Permaculture
Wakarusa Valley Permaculture
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N 851 Diagonal Rd., Overbrook, Kansas, US
(815) 535-7387
Climate zone:
Cool Temperate

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Keyline Water Management Plan design completed

Project: Wakarusa Valley Permaculture

Posted by John Lee almost 8 years ago

   Howdy y'all!  There is a new farm on the Kansas prairie, just southwest of Clinton Lake outside Lawrence.  We've only just begun, but with a completed Master Plan for a keyline water management system, every shovelful of dirt is guaranteed to have been dug to and from the right spot once we've pegged.  

   For any of you unfamiliar with keyline water management, it is essentially farming on level contour where any excess moisture is taken from naturally wet areas in valleys (or key points) and moved passively on said contours out to the ridges of the landscape.  The key point is where the valley slope changes from convex to concave, and when used to peg a pond typically ends up being the back of an irregular triangle-shaped body of water.  Excruciating detail can be found in P.A.Yeomans' book 'Water for Every Farm.'  Permaculture pioneers Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton, and Mark Shepard all use and clued me in to Yeomans' simple yet profound wisdom.

   Ideally we would like to route through the entire acreage this year, install the whole water management system and gets things growing as some products will take years before their host tree matures to fruit; but even if we had the land owner's permission to do so, we are starting with a tight enough budget that we wouldn't have enough trees to plant out that much swale.  Earthworking machines will eventually be utilized, but our first swale will be hand dug.  It is the rain season and we're really trying to get some infrastructure established before the rain ends.

   The current mainframe design with no embellishments has approximately 8,835' of swales which, depending on depth of ponds in design, combines with the ponds to make the system's water volume capacity between 2.1 million (@ 2' pond depth) and 5.6 million gallons (@ a more realistic 8' pond depth).  The kicker is a potential creek valley dam on the south side of the road that could add over 9.6 million gallons capacity!  The owner is unlikely to go for a dam or pond of that size, but the sheer volume added from this one dam plus the fact that two currently disconnected areas of land within the parcel would become connected via the dam wall/roadway just may be tantalizing enough to tip the scales in it's favor.

   Recent rainfall reports have shown some moderate rains to have dropped .22" in 6 hours, up to .5" in 24 hours.  Gaines Ranch (the land on which Wakarusa Valley Permaculture is being built) is 200 acres, making that 6-hour rainfall an almost 1.2 million gallon flush of water through the system, and the 24-hour total around 2.7 million gallons of rainfall for potential use.  NOTE: These numbers do not include the perhaps 50 acres uphill to the north, the yet uncalculated catchment upstream of the creek flowing through the property on the south side of the road, or the catchment potential of the roadway running through the property.  

  So it appears that our mainframe design, at 5.6 million gallons, is capable of entirely capturing a typical rain event for the area.  Unless we had the entire landscape dug to planted swales on 60-foot spacings and added the 9.6 million gallon capacity creek valley dam, a 50- or 100-year rain event would easily blow out the system; but I think if land management were taken to that extreme, the system would hold even during such catastrophic rains.  It's pretty cool being able to approximately calculate how earth-ending, ark-requiring of a flood it would take to destroy or even make budge your system, so I'll give you fellow water nerds a quick way to do so.

   FOR TOTAL RAINFALL ON A LANDSCAPE:  1) Measure the area you're calculating to get a squared meter or foot total.  
2) Using data for typical or extreme rainfall events, annual averages, whathaveyou, convert millimeters or centimeters to meters and inches to feet.  
3) Multiply area by rainfall depth to get a cubic meter or cubic foot total.  
4) Multiply cubic meters by 1000 L/cubic meter, and similarly multiply cubic feet by 7.48 gal/cubic foot to give you the total volume of water falling on that given area, in liters or gallons.

   FOR TOTAL VOLUMES HELD (in potential bodies of water):  Perform calculations as above, only replace the rainfall data in step 2 with the intended depth of your pond, swale, etc.

   While waiting to break ground, we have been looking for good suppliers of permaculture-geared plants like pea shrub, hazelnut, monkey puzzle, etc.   There are a few raspberry plants and sunchokes we plan to propagate from my stock, as well as some wild gooseberries we found en masse.  We'll be grafting local walnuts and mulberries like madmen.  The owners of the horse stables where I live and work part-time have apple, mulberry, apricot, walnut, maple, ash, redbud, crab apple, willow, olive, rose, rose of sharon, and some other useful plants from which I've been allowed, if not asked, to take seeds, scattered seedlings and volunteers, and grafts.  

   A local bloke who runs a chestnut farm set me up with a cache of 'Gideon' cultivar Chinese chestnut seeds from some growers he supports in Ohio.  Gideon cultivar apparently produces seedling stock with similar production traits to the mother which is pretty cool and unique.  Worst case scenario, they don't produce well and provide perfect rootstock for grafting the mother plant which the new tree crop-bearing friend offered as an option.  BTW, he (Chestnut Charlie) warned me that seedlings and trees from east of the Mississippi could potentially harbor chestnut gall wasps which are a relatively new chestnut plague (as if they weren't struggling enough at this point!) -- something to keep in mind when ordering your trees.  

   We'll be heading over to the University of Missouri - Columbia, Department of Agroforestry soon to check out their stock and pick up some elderberry and hopefully some other goodies I've discussed with them in the past.  If any of you readers know of tree and perennial suppliers near eastern Kansas, we would definitely appreciate a heads up.  Chokecherry, Cornelian cherry, Heartnuts, Buartnuts, Stone Pine, Hardy Kiwi, I think you get the drift.  Local bees would be excellent if anyone has any swarms in the Lawrence area to collect!

   There will also come a time very soon when we will have hundreds or thousands of plants and need help putting them in the ground, so anyone reading this, especially locals around the Kansas/Missouri state line, should message us if interested in joining for permablitz affairs.  In the event it is illegal or otherwise prohibited, any locals or vagrant permies wishing to camp out with us on the land while helping with projects should know that there is a beautiful lake with dozens of (free or hooked up) campgrounds just a stone's throw from the site, and soon enough we will need all the help we can get.

   Hopefully our next update has photos of a completed swale, full of water!!!  Until then, enjoy spring planting!

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