Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘runoff

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

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

Failure Happens

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We received 3-and-a-half inches of rain in the storm that hit this region on Tuesday evening. With reports warning of wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph, we were a bit anxious about what might happen when the full force arrived. Luckily, we did not experience any loss of trees from that high of wind, but the paddocks have the makings of a couple new canyons shaped by the heavy rain.

IMG_1437eWhile cleaning up manure, I came across evidence of a failure I had been suspicious of for some time. The drain tube that was buried from the barn gutter to the main drainage swale has made its way up to the surface. There is no way it can be draining properly.

That helps explain the dramatic runoff that has been occurring from the corner of the barn. It doesn’t really matter that I cleaned out the bird’s nest from the down spout when the drainage tube the spout is connected to is plugged somewhere down the line.

After work yesterday, I disconnected the down spout from the tube that leads underground and rigged up an above-ground series of tubes as a temporary solution for protecting the paddock from erosion.

I don’t know what I would do different, but the failure of that buried tube reveals a flaw in our plan. Once again I am reminded of how fluid (as opposed to static) the “solid” ground actually is. Buried things don’t tend to stay buried around here.

Each spring farmers find new rocks sprouting in their plowed fields. Those rocks aren’t falling from the sky. They are pushed up from below, just like that section of my drainage tube that now protrudes above the surface.

I probably won’t ever succeed in preventing erosion from runoff of heavy rains, but I would sure like to reduce and confine it as much as possible. My next idea will involve a way to capture the water running off the roof into a giant barrel of some kind.

Then I just need to figure out what to do with the overflow from that vessel whenever it fills up.

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Written by johnwhays

July 8, 2016 at 6:00 am

Hazardous Conditions

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Yesterday, while working outside for long hours in the spring wind, we exposed ourselves to enough tree pollen to cause significant irritation to our delicate tissues. I think I also successfully altered the weather to shut down precipitation here for some time.IMG_iP1213e

While my nose dripped at an ever-increasing rate, I built a barrier of old, moldy hay bales in the trees by our uphill neighbor’s corn field.

During heavy rain, the water comes off that field in a torrent and washes sediment onto our property. Lately, it has started to fill in a drainage trench beside our driveway.

Oddly enough, I actually wanted it to rain today, so I could see if my creation worked as intended, but the forecast shows no precipitation expected in the days ahead.

Given that, I guess my project worked. It has stopped the sediment from pouring into our trench, hasn’t it?

While I was working in the tangled bramble of uncontrolled growth that forms the border between our property and that cultivated field to the north of us, I decided to finally address a remnant of rusted barbed wire fencing that had been swallowed by a tree.

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The tree had long ago been cut off, leaving a stump that was about the height of a fence post. Made sense, since the barbed wire ran through the tree, it was already functioning as a fence post.

Removing the rusted fencing was made easier by the fact the tree was rotting to pieces. So much of it came apart simply by prying at it with one of the old fence posts that I found myself struggling near the end, to finish it off in the same manner. Eventually, logic, and my increasingly irritating allergic reactions to pollen, led me to hasten the task by way of the chain saw.

The area looks like it has been through a serious spring cleaning now, with the added benefit of opening up visibility to the area where water flows off the neighbor’s field. It is easier to see if the barrier I built is doing the job of keeping sediment out of our ditch.

Sneeze. Cough. Drip. Stinging blink. It’s the hazardous working conditions of spring!

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Written by johnwhays

April 10, 2016 at 8:42 am

Natural Results

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DSCN3996eDespite all our efforts to influence outcomes toward results which match the visions in our heads, the universe continues its reluctance to conform to our exact specifications.

A year ago I paid an excavating company more money than I really wanted to part with, to have a drainage swale shaped across our property. The plan was to have me plant grass in the new spillway to control erosion, but the excavation didn’t happen until too late in the year and my effort to cover it with grass was only partially successful.

Meanwhile, the earliest series of spring rainstorms testing the new swale turned out to be extreme gully washers that initiated a distinct washout crevice. The topsoil that flowed down stream from then on began filling in the swale, spoiling the plan to have a clearly defined trough to constrain runoff and drain water from our property without obstruction.

Maybe I could apply for a partial refund.

The good news is that the desired flow of runoff still seems to happen well enough, despite the deviations from the ideal we envisioned. However, I prefer to not have the growing canyon in that pasture and would like to reclaim the originally planned swale from the sediment that has accumulated.

I’m considering the possibility of digging it out myself next summer, and bringing the soil from below to fill in the crevice. I would want to wait until later in the summer, in hopes of finding a time when there is a reduced likelihood of heavy rains, but early enough that I would have plenty of time to get it covered with newly planted grass.

Another option is to leave it go to nature’s design, until such time that it fails to function as we want. It might just be an exercise I need to experience: allowing it to be a little rough around the edges and not so refined as I envisioned.

It seems odd to me that I find myself wrestling with the different extremes that I am drawn toward. On one hand, I prefer to have things be as natural as possible, so the naturally carved drainage ditch should be appealing. On the other hand, I don’t want things to look neglected here, or function faultily, so digging it out, filling in the crevice and covering the entire length with new grass would appeal equally well.

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Written by johnwhays

October 2, 2015 at 6:00 am