Swales and Filter Strips

In order to control some of the upland runoff, I had been planning on just using filter strips, which are on-contour strips of vegetation that remove sediment and other pollutants from runoff, increase infiltration of the rainwater, and slow flow velocities. But recently I spoke with Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project about filter strips and swales. Before getting too far here, I should explain swales. Simply, they are awesome. They are on-contour ditches that hold water and let it soak into the soil. This is great for all sorts of reasons, first among them is that it increases the total amount of water infiltrating into the soil, and because it does this, there is a lot less downhill erosion. I was originally thinking I wouldn’t use swales, because I thought that it would be much too labor intensive. But Wayne suggested that I just find someone with a one-bottom/moldboard plow and have them run their tractor on contour every 20-30 feet. This would create a swale roughly 1 foot deep and would be cheap, easy, and could still be used at the same time as the filter strips. The overflow from a swale ideally goes into a channel that takes it into the next swale, i.e., there’s a controlled cascade. After I put in these swales, I’m pretty much going to let the whole upper pasture go wild with grasses to start these filter strips; I’ll cut half of the grass in strips on contour at some point, and then after that has grown back, I’ll cut the other half, using the hay for general things around the property.

But back to swales and to give you an idea of what swales can do, I strongly suggest that you watch this video:

In the end, making swales similar to those in the video will help me get a lot of my erosion under control while also putting that originally destructive water to good use. Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture, has a principle that says “the problem is the solution.” In some small way, this illustrates that point well: instead of trying to divert the water into channels to get the water off the land quickly, we are using the water for our purposes.

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1 Comment »

  1. a said

    Nathan – I think you should reconsider the location of Eudaimonia – I hear there are some swell/swale opportunities in West Jordan.

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