Building Permaculture Swales to Conserve Water

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We built a permaculture swale above the vegetable garden and blueberry bush area to capture the rain to prevent runoff and conserve the water for future use. Swales have been proven to retain water by forcing the rainwater into the Earth down to the impervious layer of soil. The water then travels under the surface and provides plant roots with needed irrigation. Such water can travel great distances and be stored for extended periods of time. Swales conserve valuable rainwater that normally runs down slopes and eventually ends up in driveways and storm sewers. They also help reduce evaporation of rainwater.

We built a  permaculture swale above the garden to capture water running down the hill from the north end of the property. The swale is approximately one foot deep and 16 inches wide. Swale depth can vary depending on slope of hill and soil type. For example we made the swale shallower but wider in areas with rock closer to the surface which made digging more difficult. The swale at the top of the hill provides water for the peach trees, blueberry bushes and concord grapes. Decomposed leaves are placed in the swale to help retain water. Wheat straw covers the leaves and swale berm to prohibit erosion.

Another smaller permaculture swale was dug at the bottom of the hill using the same technique. This swale catches additional water for the vegetable garden. We are considering the addition of strawberries on the berm portion of this swale since they have deep roots and will help stabilize the berm. Not to mention fresh strawberries in the future.

Additional swales will be built on the property in the future.

To see a video of our swales visit video.

Geoff Lawton is a renowned permaculturist and did a great video on how swales work. Visit his video by clicking how swales work.

For more information about what we have done at the inn for swales visit permaculture.

Your Water Footprint

I was reading our Green Hotels newsletter yesterday and there was a short article on water footprints. We have all heard about carbon footprint but water footprint was new to me. Water is a resource that should be conserved. Some say water will be the next oil in terms of scarcity of fresh water supplies.

At Cedar House Inn we value water and try to conserve it as much as we can. Low flow shower heads and sink aerators have been installed in all bathrooms. Guest reminder stickers are in the bathroom asking guests not to waste water. We use low flush toilets throughout the property and have composting toilets that require no water. Guest bed and bath linens are not changed daily (unless requested) to save laundry water. An Energy Star washing machine and dishwasher have also been installed that use less water compared to conventional appliances.

In our owner’s area we have a bucket to catch the cold water coming out of the bathtub faucet prior to the warm shower water arriving. We use it to flush the toilet or water the plants. We also use the “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” philosophy in our bathroom. I save my “liquid gold” for reuse as nitrogen fertilizer (see earlier blog post on this topic). We turn off the sink when we brush our teeth is another water saving tip. Such measures could lower your water footprint.

A few months ago we installed a new metal roof to capture rainwater more water footprint reduction with rain barrelsefficiently. We installed rain gutters and barrels. Our yard is a freedom lawn that requires no water. Native drought tolerant plants have been planted as well. This lowered our water footprint. For more eco friendly methods visit our web site.

In terms of shopping the Green Hotels article mentioned the water footprint of products we purchase. For example 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, 132 gallons for 2 liters of soda, 500 gallons to make a pair of Levi’s stonewashed jeans. Even some foods have a higher water footprint depending on where they are grown and the type of plant.

I am not suggesting we give up beer or quit wearing bluejeans. I do think we all need to be more mindful of our water usage and water footprint.

The Green Hotels newsletter referenced an article on this topic published in Currents, The Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2009 by Alexandra Alter.