Store Water in the Ground
Not in the Ocean
The tiny trickle of water, once frozen but now sun warmed, dripping from snow-melt and seeping through small crevices in a mountain range, meanders around rocks and trees both live and dead, gravity-drawn to join more rivulets, then gains energy as they slip toward collecting gullies. The feeders gather and build in momentum, finding common arroyos, racing and cascading through ever steeper ravines if erosion has long had its way. The flood has picked up a rich load of organic matter, nutrients lost to the upper regions, as soil, leaves and manure is pushed along. The more rapid the spring thaw the more violent will be the ecological damage, as stream on stream turns into rivers seeking room to expand. As the land levels into meadows near the base of mountains where the water should be a blessing, the energy instead is now unrestrained, an angry force blindly seeking pathway to the sea. It began with gentle seeping as, ideally as far as possible, it should have continued. Instead it rages through natural beaver dams and ponds, widening and deepening a bed, if not a gorge, whether established or new. This priceless water most perfectly situated and available for submersion, for aquifer recharge, for every ecological enhancement…will now carry tons and tons of precious soil to the bottom of an excessively nitrogenized lake, or both water and soil may find a way down through the realm of asphalt and concrete, and be lost to the sea.
How and where could we best slow percolation and prevent destructive, wasteful runoff? How can we maximize time, and best prioritize benefits of the water cycle for each area? How can we most wisely invest in our aquifers, in our upper elevation wetlands, in photosynthesis and carbon sequestration, in submersion and recharge for our water tables?
For generations our family has purposefully improved watersheds, stabilizing river banks, minimizing channeling and erosion. For 60 years the Youngs farmed ancient lake-bed sedimentary loam along the Agua Fria River in Yavapai County, Arizona, where Anasazi culture had farmed before us. My Grandfather, Elmer Young, worked every year in the river, building gabions, curbing destructive river bends, planting trees and other vegetative protection for the deep top soil, preventing our farm from disappearing downstream.
When we moved to The Blue Mountain Ranch in Central Oregon we transitioned with much of the same vision for The Ochoco Mountains, along the Paulina Creek watershed and for other streams and rivers on the ranch. Like most farmers/ranchers in the area, we struggle with the early spring runoff in central Oregon. Depending on weather and snow pack, the high flow season may begin as early as February. Simply, one extra-warm day, makes possible the loss of most of our recharge water, with torrents ripping through and across creek channels. Since moving here in 2006 we have followed the work of previous owners in adjusting road banks, crossings and ditches to slow runoff, fencing vulnerable stream bank areas to regulate grazing and prevent riparian damage. We’ve worked against erosion, slowing, spreading and distributing flow patterns with check dams and gabion structures. Check dam systems allow for fish passage during high flow seasons and create planned opportunities for groundwater to submerge and be retained as high as possible in the watershed. This type of water storage and percolation is, for mountainous regions, the most highly productive of life-sustaining photosynthesis and carbon sequestration, as well as delivering more useful, cleaner, and better timed supply downstream.
Please review the links below for important studies on slowing and spreading runoff water for recharge:
Our government and legislators should support practices for the slowing and spreading of our spring runoff, which does seem to be happening earlier every year. Recharge should be high priority as the need inevitably grows and must be increasingly acknowledged. Always remaining cognizant that the higher the elevation, the more subsequent opportunities, the more storage, the more overall saving and enhancement. If we can’t expand our ability to recharge upper-level aquifers, over time we’ll witness sagebrush, parched soil and dried up springs…a desert… creeping up into the mountains.