Sunday, March 06, 2011

Water Farming In West Seattle

Our homes are way-stations for the movement of water. Few of us may be professional water farmers like the Skywalkers of Tatooine, but all of us may find it useful to think systematically about the water we manage as it comes onto and leaves our land, with an eye toward making the "water crop" serve us as well and as inexpensively as possible.


Water is input to my "water farm" a couple of two ways:
  • Piped in deliberately (and paid for), or
  • Precipitated (free, but hard to control).
  • We don't have significant flow from other property, since we're at the top of a hill (and have no artisan spring).


Water is output several ways:
  • Piped out (we pay a sewage fee), or
  • Respirated back into the air (mostly by way of our plants, but a little bit directly)
  • Runoff, either down the street or by way of underground streams.
We know the runoff does something although it's hard to tell what. In a heavy rain, the manhole covers at the bottom of the hill become little fountains, shooting water up ... only a few inches, but even that little bit is somewhat disturbing.  There's also some sort of stream or seep that surfaces in the alley behind the houses across the street; we know that because it drains onto a sidewalk which freezes very slickly in winter.


We wish to control the use of water in the system, both to save money by minimizing the water that's piped in, and to limit the output, since we're good citizens and want to minimize the problems we cause others. It's especially critical to control runoff in times of heavy rain, but we'd also like to control overall usage.


The first thing I'm doing to help with runoff is to find ways hold on to water from heavy rain, then let it trickle away slowly, over time, at a pace the system can handle. Unfortunately the classical grass lawn is terrible for this; it's so tightly bound that it doesn't water well; the water that falls on the grass flows invisibly down until it hits something handy, like a street or a sewer. Fortunately, we're not that fond of the classical grass lawn; it's just more work to maintain for very little return.

My tree's duff area
Duff area helps control water
(and also doesn't have to be mowed!)
We are therefore gradually converting our lawn into a mixed-format. Much of it will eventually be raised-bed gardens, well designed to retain water. But for a quick and easy change, I'm expanding the area that is native duff - the detritus from native evergreens that form a spongy layer, good for holding on to water and releasing it slowly.
I started with a duff yard on the side of the house, and now we've built a duff area around our largest tree (see photo. We're gradually expanding it by moving its rock boundaries. One consideration with this project is integrating it with other uses of the property, such as walking from point A to point B.

Another consideration is esthetic. We want to keep a nice appearance and also indulge our penchant for idiosyncratic art-like objects, hence the "chalets" and the planter.
Observant readers will note in the photo some non-native ivy which is and will be a problem to eradicate. The area is small enough that I don't mind using physical methods to wipe it out, knowing that it'll be back next year. I don't want to use weedkiller anywhere never humans, such as myself.
While I like the appearance of the duff, I also like native primroses and other flowers. We will probably convert the parking strip into a garden, further improving the water control situation.
There's a lot more to water control, but this small change in lawn management was easy to implement. It nicely compliments our other efforts at dirt farming too!


I got thinking about this due to this week's Change the World Wednesday Challenge
This week do not use your garbage disposal (and save a bunch of water). Instead, find ways to reduce food waste, reuse veggie scraps (ie make stock with them), or compost items normally sent down the drain. If you MUST use the disposal, use minimal water, and consider if there are other options available for "next time".
Or ...
If you never use a disposal, please share your most creative water saving idea.
Now, I never use the garbage disposal. When you compost, the idea of washing perfecting good food scraps down the drain is even more irrational than usual. I need those peelings and tag-ends - especially since using the disposal wastes water as well as biomass.
Instead, I have to look at creative water saving ideas. I hope the concept of looking at our land (whether owned or rented) as a water farm will help us invent better water crops, whether out of a desire to save money or to change the world!

1 comment:

Small Footprints said...

Wowee ... a water farm! That's brilliant!! If we all paid just a little attention to that water system, and tried to control the output a bit more ... well ... just imagine what we could accomplish! Okay ... once again you get the award for most creative! :-)