Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘drainage

Triple Fenced

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The heat and humidity have broken and it finally feels a little more like September now. We were expecting the transition to involve a lot more rain than showed up yesterday. The line of precipitation slowly moving west is doing so at an angle that is sliding from the southwest to the northeast and for some reason, most of the rain moved around, rather than over our region.

Ironically, now I am wishing we would actually receive a heavy dose of rain, because last Friday we put a lot of energy into shoring up the silt fence at the property line adjacent to our neighbor’s corn field. In fact, we turned it into a bit of a terrace with three-tiered layers of silt fence.

The first two are short sections to slow the flow before it reaches our long fence. Between the top two sections there is the skeleton frame for a berm, in the form of piled dead pine trees. The soil runoff will accumulate around the branches and hold them in place. Eventually, weeds and grasses will grow through the branches and that forms a nice natural barrier that will hold soil in place but allow water to flow.

We have added support to the fabric fence by using old hay bales that we can’t feed to the horses because they have gotten moldy.

If I am able, I hope to trek out there in the middle of heavy rain to observe the action as it happens. At the very least, I now know that we need to check it after every big rainfall and remove excess soil if it accumulates.

I don’t know why I originally assumed the soil fence wouldn’t need regular maintenance, but after the soil conservation consultant pointed it out so very matter-of-factly, digging out accumulation makes total sense to me now.

If our enhancements work to mitigate the mud overflow messing up that area, we will be one step closer to being able to enjoy a good cloudburst when it happens. There still remains a problem in the paddocks, where a terrace or silt fence is not an option.

We plan to do some digging to create a couple of better defined routes directing runoff straight to the drainage swale beyond the wood fence, hoping to reduce the amount of flow traveling to one spot with energy that washes away our precious lime screenings and creates a deep canyon of a rill.

It’s fine if a little flow goes that way, but it is currently a problem because most all of the flow is combining to rush sideways along the fence, instead of straight under it out of the paddock.

The trick in the paddocks is, our solution needs to be horse-proof. Their heavy hooves have a way of disrupting all of the simple spade-width channels I’ve created in the past, causing runoff to flow every which way, and ultimately not where we really want it to go.

The next version we have in mind will be scaled up. Maybe I should triple-size it.

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Written by johnwhays

September 26, 2017 at 6:00 am

Periodic Maintenance

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That tree in our back yard which leads the way in changing colors is cranking it up to full blaze now that we have arrived within the month of September. This image doesn’t to justice to the view, because our sunlight was muted by the smoke of wild fires in Canada and the western U.S. most of the day yesterday.

I spent time in the morning consulting with a specialist from our county soil conservation office as he surveyed the situation where the neighbor’s tilled corn field is overflowing my silt fence. According to him, we have done all the right things for drainage on our property, adding that compared to other sites he reviews, our problems are not very significant.

My perfectionism sees it otherwise.

He did basically fault the neighbor, of whom I gathered he didn’t hold a high opinion. The best fix to hold the soil would be for the neighbor to plant hay in that field, instead of corn. I don’t have any idea if that is something I might be able to influence, but I will suggest it at the first opportunity.

On my end, I learned that the silt fence does require maintenance to remove material when it starts to fill, because he said it is obviously functioning as intended.

I will do that, but I will also add another short section of silt fence above it and then start building a berm of branches between the two, eventually creating a thicket of wild growing weeds and trees.

Since it is so late in the growing season, such a barrier will take a year to become the filter I envision, but just having the skeleton of tree limbs in place before winter will provide an additional place for the silt to build up and start a foundation for a natural barrier.

Looking at the drainage swale below our paddocks and across the pastures, the advice was to periodically reshape the high spots by digging those out as well. Funny me. I had it in my head that there was a one-time solution where I could shape the swale properly and then never deal with it again.

Why should it be any different from the periodic maintenance required on everything else?

Lawns need to be mowed, septic tanks need pumping, engines need oil changes, rugs need vacuuming, animals need feeding, relationships need tending. There aren’t many things that can be ignored indefinitely.

Land needs management. I guess I won’t argue with that logic.

Though, given that, seems to me that days need more hours.

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Written by johnwhays

September 2, 2017 at 9:04 am

Standing Corrected

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I stand corrected. My neighbor finally got my message and stopped by yesterday to discuss the soil eroding from his corn field. In my angst over the mess, I had jumped to the conclusion that he had neglected to leave a patch of un-tilled grass waterway.

In fact, he did, and it has a wonderful patch of grass, below which are some weeds taller than his corn. I had not walked far enough up into the field to notice the full scope of what was going on. Had I looked just beside my focus of the current source of sandy top soil, I might have noticed.

I think it was the willow tree that obscured a full view.

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The sad truth is that the heavy flow of downpour runoff has simply migrated to either side of his grass waterway.

There isn’t really anything he can do about it right now, but just the fact he is now acutely aware of the current situation helps my mind. When he cuts at the end of the growing season, he will better be able to see the whole picture of what is happening, allowing him to consider options going forward.

It may simply be that he tries making the grass water way wider. I got the impression that he believed it was just an unlucky timing of heavy rain in the spring, before the planted corn had sprouted, that created this situation, so the fix will rely on a hope we get lucky and it doesn’t rain like that next year.

I am more of a mind that the likelihood of heavy downpours will only increase until the global temperatures somehow reverse the current trend and drop a degree or two.

Either way, the solution appears to involve a wider portion of un-tilled soil, but that won’t take effect immediately. For now, I am facing the challenge of dealing with the filled silt fence and finding a way to stretch its effectiveness through the rest of this summer and fall.

I’m trying to decide where I can put the sandy soil if I dig out the front of my silt fence. I’d like it to go somewhere that doesn’t end up just washing away the next time it rains, and that’s a daunting feat. I love the hilliness of our terrain, but the runoff erosion tends to be a constant result.

I’m back to that challenge of striving to work with the natural order and not against it. I want to figure out a solution that involves allowing water to take the easy path it seeks, but without it causing such extreme erosion. It’s hard to convince water to flow gently when the land is not so flat.

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Written by johnwhays

August 20, 2017 at 9:31 am

Nature Wins

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This round goes to Mother Nature.

I’ve heard tell that our warmer climate allows the atmosphere to hold more moisture. With a pattern of increasing frequency, our anecdotal evidence of the years we have lived here is that downpours are increasingly bringing multi-inch totals that overwhelm the old drainage paths.

Overnight Wednesday we received over 2 inches, bringing the 24-hour total to more than 5.5 inches.

When I combine our experience and the recorded data of measurable climbing global temperatures, I get the impression we are seeing the beginning of downpour trend that will, at best, keep happening at this level, or worse, continue to grow more extreme.

This presents a daunting challenge for devising a plan to improve our drainage paths to a point they will be able to handle ever-increasing volumes of massive flow in a manner that avoids major washouts, if that is even possible.

Our attempt to stem the tide of topsoil flowing from the neighbor’s cornfield came up short of successful after not very many storms. I don’t know if there is a more industrial version of a silt fence or we just need to pull out and re-install the one we have, above the new ground level.

Ideally, we would like to enlist the assistance of the neighbor-farmer to get him to not plow the portions of that field where the runoff flows and instead, create a grassed-waterway.

Recent efforts to contact him have thus far failed. I have a sense that his not having already maintained a protective waterway reveals a certain lack of interest in having one, so I’m imagining I may need to be prepared to offer a convincing sales pitch.

I suppose I could pull out the corn plants that washed down from his field and are now growing on our property, and bring them over to his house to see if he wants them back.

If it wasn’t so much work, I’d love to also bring him a load of the mud that poured out of his field and now covers the grass of our walking trail.

Since the rain will likely keep dumping on us, maybe his field will just empty out and that problem will go away. I can switch my attention to marketing the sale of a large amount of sifted soil that magically became ours when it crossed the property line.

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Written by johnwhays

August 18, 2017 at 6:00 am

Patch Worked

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On Sunday, I just happened to stumble upon the fact that the snow-melt flowing down our drainage swale from beneath the driveway wasn’t coming out of the culvert.

“What the…!?”

I hustled to the other side of the driveway, and sure enough, the rushing water was disappearing beneath the mouth of the culvert. Nice.

I tell ya, property ownership is a trip.

I tried an on-the-fly patch in attempt to plug the opening enough to coerce the water to flow through the culvert, not beneath it. I dumped in sand and hay, plus tried stomping some of the residual snow to fill the void, but the water was moving with such momentum that my plug didn’t stop the flow.

I needed something impermeable. Old empty bags of feed came to mind, especially as they were also closest at hand. I cut open a bag and tried laying it as a sheet over the opening in hope the water pressure would push it in place to fill the opening beneath the mouth of the culvert.

The bag was more inclined to float.

dscn5848eI struggled to hurriedly push it below the freezing-cold water where I could cover it with hay and sand to redirect flow into the culvert. It started to work a little bit, so I worked harder to get the edges down to where water wouldn’t flow beneath it. Soon, it became obvious I needed to do something just upstream from there, so I added a second bag and placed a shovel on it to hold that one in place.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing, so I left it at that, fully expecting to find one or both of the bags out of place and wreaking havoc on desired flow sometime later.

Then yesterday’s rain storms arrived. Driving home, I noticed the ditches were filled with standing water and the creeks were running at full capacity with runoff. This time of year, rain water can’t soak into the soil because the ground is mostly frozen. I held little hope for the hastily placed feed bags at the mouth of our culvert.

Draining rain water was running at full tilt through the culvert under the road at the south border of our property when I arrived home. I stopped the car when I reached the problem culvert under our driveway and stepped out into the rain. First, I walked to the outlet side and was pleased to see heavy flow coming out of the culvert.

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Crossing to the other side, I was amazed to find both bags still positioned where I had placed them. The one funneling water into the culvert had flopped over sideways a bit, but it seemed to be holding in place down below. I pulled it back again to catch as much water as possible and deemed it a success.

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A more permanent fix will wait until there’s no water flowing, but for now, that crazy patch is certainly performing beyond my expectations. With the weather we are experiencing this winter, there is no telling when that opportunity for a permanent fix will arrive.

It will be no surprise to me if I find one or both of those bags down stream before their services are no longer needed. Stay tuned for further developments.

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Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2017 at 7:00 am

Shaping Terrain

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dscn5371eDespite the sprinkling rain that pestered most of the day yesterday, I decided to try moving some dirt and turf from the drainage ditch along our southern property line to the adjacent sloped path.

When the new fence was installed and the drainage ditch improved, there wasn’t much width remaining beside a little bend in the fence. It was an impediment to being able to use the tractor to mow that section of path around the outside of the hay-field fence.

Originally, I envisioned using the loader on the tractor to dig out the sediment that has been accumulating in the ditch, but it hasn’t been dry enough to do that for months.

Since I was already working along that fence line this weekend, I decided to see what I could accomplish using a shovel to dig it out by hand. It was a little messy, and a bit tedious, but it was probably a better method for then using the material removed to improve the path.

Using blocks of dirt and turf that I could barely lift with the shovel, I built up the low side until it was wide enough to fit at least the lawn tractor, for now. Might be dicey fitting the diesel around that bend.

The strip around the fence only received infrequent attention and would grow tall and thick, so I had been mowing navigable portions with the brush cutter. Now that I will be able to drive the lawn tractor around, it will be convenient enough that I can keep it cut short all the time.

Well, as short at the rest of the lawn, which all grows so fast that short is a relative term.

With that little narrow bend of path fixed, there was only one other barrier remaining to allow driving the full circumference of our horse-fenced fields. Back in the corner by the woods there is an old ravine that was created by years of water runoff. Previous owners had dumped a lot of old broken up concrete in it to slow the erosion.

We have created a better defined intentional swale a short distance above that directing the bulk of energized flow into the main drainage ditch. It crossed my mind to fill in the ravine, but some water still wants to follow the ease of that natural route and I’d rather not fight it.dscn5373e

Simple solution: a bridge. For now, nothing fancy. I used a few left over fence posts and then broke down and actually purchased additional lumber to make it wide enough to drive across.

I placed them across the washout yesterday in the rain, leaving the task of cutting a notch in the dirt on each side to level them for today.

Then I will be driving to the airport to pick up George and Anneliese. I’ve come to the end of my solo weekend on the ranch. They are going to return the favor of airport transport after midnight tonight when Cyndie arrives home from Guatemala, so I can get some sleep before the start of my work week.

I’m looking forward to having everyone home again.

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Written by johnwhays

October 30, 2016 at 9:15 am

Rainy Results

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One day later, with the sun shining brightly, I surveyed the results of our crazy mid-summer type of thundershower in October. As I drove in the driveway after work, I could see right away from the car that the grass was laid flat below the culvert.dscn5320e

There was a clear impression of how wide the little runoff river rose after the deluge.

Our rain gauge collected over an inch from Monday night’s dramatic evening cloud burst, and that was on top of a previously accumulated inch that Cyndie had dumped out of the gauge after a drenching earlier that same day.

When we moved to this property, which happened exactly 4 years ago this week, we had no idea the warming climate was going to start dishing out the kind of gully-washing downpours that we have witnessed with increasing regularity each year since.

We have tried a variety of ways to manage the flow —or with regard to the sub-soil, the lack of flow— of water across our land. One trick to reduce the muddiness of our paddocks was the installation of drain tile to help dry out the soil in the springtime, but that didn’t do much to help with the immediate surface runoff of heavy downpours.

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Pouring rains rush down our slopes and carve a multitude of rills around the paddocks below the barn. Dezirea surveyed the sad scene with me yesterday and agreed it kinda sucks.

The geography of our property makes this a difficult thing to prevent, especially since both the frequency and intensity of rainfall have continued to increase since we arrived.

Water will always find a path downhill. The hilly features that we adore so much about this property are also the cause of our erosion problems. We want water to drain from our land, but we would like it to depart with a lot less energy, …preferably leaving all our precious lime screenings behind.

That’s hard to accomplish when the clouds repeatedly unleash inch amounts in spans as short as mere minutes.

Maybe we should look into terracing the paddocks and turning them into rice paddies. Do they make rubber boots that fit horses?

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Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2016 at 6:00 am