Techniques For Broad Scale Water Conservation in Texas

In the Central Texas bioregion we have a flood our drought relationship with rain. So let’s practice some anticipatory design science and appreciate that the rains will come, and when they do, we will have anticipated their arrival and installed a variety of strategies to mitigate that rain so that it becomes an asset for us and not a liability. 

Walk your property while it’s raining! Go on, permission granted, go have yourself a grand adventure. This rainy walk will tell you more about what your land’s needs than any consultant ever could. When you find water moving, track it to its uphill origin. Start managing the water at the top of your property before it becomes a force of nature taking away your precious topsoil. Look for bare soil and exposed rocks and treat those areas with the urgency that you would would if you were stopping a large bleed on your best friend’s leg. Our goal is 100% soil cover by any means necessary. Any bare soil will erode more and get worse with every rain. Even the Grand Canyon began as a small trickle once upon a time.

Watch water flow and look for where the destructive force exists? The power in water comes from when it turns a corner or spills over a lip causing the water to speed up, spin and undercut what it flows over, it will eat its way back uphill creating large erosion gullies over time. Enjoy the YouTube documentary about Viktor Shauberger “Comprehend and Copy Nature.” to better grasp a few of the many mysteries of water.

Here are a few time tested methods to add to your tool box of erosion control techniques that also help to slow, spread and sink the water into your soil where it is an asset instead of a liability:

One rock dam where rocks are placed in 5 or more parallel rows only 1 rock deep. 

Zuni Bowl, where the grass turns into a small cliff in a drainage, armor it with rock and place stones to form a small basin to break the water and slow it down, then release it in a more controlled manner.

Brush berms, don’t burn that brush! Just line it up on contour and use it to slow the water and support wildlife habitat.

Keyline plowing, is a technique using a yeomans plow to rip sub soil trenches into pastures with minimal soil structure disturbance to allow water to get deeper into the soil. (Note: This is a specialized tool that is very different from a standard ripper/ sub soiler)

Leaky weir AKA Ephemeral Ponds, a beaver dam like structure placed in drainages to slow and sink larger amounts of water using earth moving and brush.

Berms and Swales AKA Conservation Terraces, an excavator or dozer will be needed for larger projects to put in a smooth gradual ditch on the uphill side and a hump on the downhill side to store large amounts of water.

Ponds are great tools too, as long as they have properly sized large spillways that release water very gently during massive flood events. All of these structures, if built properly, can become more effective over time as they become ecological niches for plants that need a little extra water and those plant’s roots stabilize the soil while helping water to infiltrate more quickly. The plants above ground parts also help to soften the rain’s impact as it falls from the sky, landing on leaves and traveling slowly down the plant instead of falling directly on the soil and picking up soil particles. They won’t be full year round but the benefits have a sort of snowball effect downstream as it can begin to seep into and charge up the local water table and in some cases the aquifer beneath the land.

Water is increasingly the limiting factor for abundance in central Texas. That’s why we take it as our first priority to design in redundancy for water sources when working with clients. We want to make sure that we are maximizing the rainfall because in truth central Texas gets plenty of rain on average each year, it’s just that a very large portion of it becomes run-off due to the severity of the rains, increasing impervious cover and overgrazing practices. Using ponds, raintanks, wells and municipal water sources in tandem we can create the most resilient water system that uses the best source of water for each application needed. Beyond that, we can think of the whole land base as a giant raintank. The size of the land, steepness of slope, impervious or semipervious covers and water flows from neighboring properties are like the roofs supplying water to the tank. The plants and how they cover the ground, or don’t, are like the plumbing, or lack thereof, that gets water into the raintank. We can accentuate this plumbing with the techniques listed above. The soil composition, depth and the organic matter percentage it holds determine the storage capacity of the raintank. With good land management practices, especially rotational grazing, we can make significant changes in these metrics for the better and bring the water capture and storage abilities back to any property. It does take knowledge, time, effort and investment. We must relearn how to listen to the land, the plants, the animals and understand what they need in order to help us thrive as apex mammals in the ecosystem. It is this great shared task that can bring us all towards a common goal. This is our mission and we’re here to help anyone who feels the call.