Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘runoff

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

Making Peace

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It is getting to a point where I think I just need to make peace with the fact that water runoff on our property will carve its own path no matter what feeble attempts I make to direct it.

We received another short-but-robust deluge from the rain gods yesterday afternoon, which generated eroding runoff flow digging ever deeper into all the existing rills and washouts that had already evolved from the last few downpours this summer.

While standing on one of the spots inside the small paddock where our insufficient attempts to establish a direct route to the drainage swale had long ago spectacularly failed, I tried to envision what a successful solution might look like.

I picture a much more assertive effort along the lines of what you would see done to create a drainage ditch along a roadway. If we dig an unmistakable ditch, we could dump the material we scoop out of it to fill the washouts we’d rather not have.

The big challenge with a serious excavation is getting planted grass to sprout and hopefully hold soil in place before rainfall gets a chance to wash it all away. If money were no object, maybe we could line the ditch with enough river rock to form a creek bed.

Aw, heck, why stop there? Let’s just line it with a rubber pond skin first, and then pour on the rock. Wouldn’t that make a sharp-looking dry creek that’s always ready for a flash flood. It’s called Rainscaping.

There are a lot of images out there depicting some incredibly artistic solutions along these lines. Fifty dry creek ideas right here! But there is one thing missing from all photos I saw: weeds.

If we tried any of those solutions, in a very short time, you wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful rocks through the 3-foot tall weeds that would happily take root.

Maybe there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I’m thinking I need grass to grow to hold soil in place, or rocks. How about grass and rocks?

It would be a hassle to mow, though.

Back to reality. The rocks to cover the distances I need would be an awful strenuous effort to accomplish, in addition to the cost of having them delivered. Grass seed is something I can afford and plant easily myself.

It doesn’t cost anything to dream. I like picturing the possibilities. In the mean time, I am stuck looking at the ongoing and frustrating erosion that has had the better of me for the last five years.

I want to work on making my peace with that.

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Written by johnwhays

August 28, 2017 at 6:00 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

Oh My

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Anyone need some August rain? We have extra. I’d be happy to share.

Unfortunately, all that water fell in a very short amount of time yesterday morning, so the result was something of a flash-flood type of runoff.

Our silt fence along the northern border below our neighbor’s corn field was already filled with sandy topsoil that has flowed with every rainfall since we installed it. That led to an overflow which flattened some of our grass beneath an inch or two of silty muck.

Balancing that negative with a positive, the trail at the bottom of our hill in the woods, where I placed the pavers, is working perfectly. There is a small lake-like puddle where I spread the salvaged landscape rock, while the pavers are providing excellent (dry) footing across that rest of that section.

The amount that fell overnight will get tallied after the sun comes up today, but by the looks of the radar and sound on the roof and skylight last night, we got a lot more of the unneeded wet stuff than we wanted.

I sure wish I could transfer a large amount of it to the drought-stricken regions that need the water a lot more than we do.

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Written by johnwhays

August 17, 2017 at 6:00 am

Silt Filtered

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The new silt fence installation mostly worked, but it wasn’t quite up to the task of yesterday morning’s deluge. We received 2-inches of rain in a span of about 20 minutes. I made a quick reconnaissance trek to assess the worthiness of our installation in the moments after the downpour and found this:

It was a little deflating, but not unexpected. Interesting to see how easily the water pressure pushed away the bales as it overflowed the plastic fabric barrier. The good news is that most of the silt did remain on the uphill side of the fence.

The water will not be denied. When I pushed the bales back in place and stopped the overflow, the soil beneath my feet simply bubbled up with flow out of the ground like a spring.

Five and a half years ago when we started this property adventure, I had no idea what I was in for in terms of actual land management. If I have learned anything in that time, it is that whatever the design might be that we conjure up to enhance this land, it better fully keep in mind and will be wholly subject to, the whims of the changing climate and the water behavior it will unleash, from drought, to frost heaves, to flash flood and everything in-between.

With reverent reference to the classic thriller, “Jaws” :

We’re gonna need a bigger fence.

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Written by johnwhays

June 12, 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