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Clean Water Proposal for the World

By Michael Pilarski, Friends of the Trees Society
January 22, 2016. Version 1
Start at the tops of the watersheds and do reforestation, revegetation, erosion control, whatever is needed to maximize vegetative ground cover.  The slogan is “Secure the Headwaters”.  This vegetation allows water to soak into the ground reducing runoff at the very tops of the watersheds.  This process is followed on properties down slope over time so that eventually all areas of the watershed are ecologically treated. Erosion control and stream rehabilitation are undertaken where needed.
If runoff is still too severe, then embark on a system of swales and water features which collect runoff and hold it on the slope.  This held water sinks into the ground for the most part.  A small amount evaporates.  Most of these swale systems hold very ephemeral water during peak rain events.  Every swale and every water collection feature needs a safety valve to safely lead water away if it becomes full. This is often a rocked waterway with a lip slightly lower than the top of the berm (or dam).  These overflows usually lead to a natural stream channel or to diversion drains to fill lower systems of swales, flooded fields, ponds and lakes.
These systems would have many consequences.  This evens out water flows.  Peak flows are lower and summer flows are higher.  The water is mostly filtered through the soil and substrata and emerges through springs. This means the water is cleaner all the way from the source and continuing downstream.  There is less mud in the water. Flooding and rapid runoff leads to lots of contaminants and soil getting into the water.  It is expensive to clean this water up.  Agriculture pollution from agorochemicals and livestock is bad for water cleanliness and safety. Livestock can be raised in salmon-safe ways that keep manure out of waterways.  Fence off waterways. Take water to stock, never let stock foul the water.  Pastures and rangelands should be keylined or swaled if necessary to prevent water runoff.  All water should sink into the land. Riparian zones should have a belt of dense-rooted vegetation on both sides of the stream (for the most part). Preferably trees and shrubs which make a dense net of roots which soaks up the below ground flow of nutrients before its gets to the stream. And turns the nutrients into marketable crops that are good for wildlife at the same time.  This keeps the water cleaner in the streams and keeps it cooler from the shade.
Water naturally picks up nutrients as it moves downstream.  This background nutrient flush would be much lower than today’s situation.  If we stopped dumping toxins into the system with oil breakdown products, herbicides, pesticides, acid rain, etc than our water supply would be oh so much cleaner than today.  Hence it will be much easier to clean up water for domestic consumption.  Hold the maximum rain events on site and safely lead any excess runoff off the property safely. The amount of financial loss each year from flooding in the USA is huge.  Doing watershed rehabilitation as outlined here would reduce flooding by magnitudes. This payback is measured in the billions annually.
There would be many follow-on affects as well.  This would sequester the carbon out of the air to a pre-industrial level. Solving our climate change crisis.  Furthermore, the oxygen column would be at a much higher pressure and this pushes more oxygen into the higher atmosphere where the oxygen forms ozone.  So this will also repair our ozone thinning problems.  Wood production would go up significantly in the world, allowing for a renaissance in wood culture and related economies.  In other words the new (or enhanced) forests would be a significant resource.  Combined with a switch to restoration forestry (instead of today’s exploitative forestry), the world’s forests could grow larger and taller while providing a large harvest of high-quality wood in perpetuity. Instead of killing the goose that lays the golden egg, we will hatch and nurture many new golden geese. In the form of forests.  The reforestation of South Korea  after the Korean war is one of the world’s best models.
The above strategy can be adapted to urban areas as well.  The higher catchments are the roofs.  We put water collection on all buildings and collect the water in tanks for future use, or put into rain gardens and swales in the yard as well as in the soil base itself.  Yards can include rich, deep beds for food and ornamental plantings.  Hugekulturs are biomass-filled raised-beds which become like giant sponges. The water collection features are built into every yard, every block, every street.  Street water runoff goes into swales thru curb cuts.  Seattle has some very successful examples of this.  So each yard holds all, or most, of the rainfall that falls onto it and uses it for irrigation or sub-irrigation. This means they have to rely less on city water for their landscaping.  This infiltrated water keeps the local aquifers topped up and cleans the water which pops out as springs lower down slope (or is pumped out).  Rainfall events in cities often lead to overfilling of the drainage systems. Sewage treatment plants cannot do as good a job or have undesirable discharges.  A lot of the runoff is quite contaminated.  This system briefly outlined here would solve all these problems.  An important reference on this is the book The City Forest: The Keyline Plan for the Human Environment Revolution by P.A. Yeomans. Yeoman is the Australian who invited the Keyline System of Soil & Water Management. This is a system of controlling water in the landscape.  In City Forest Yeomans applied his ideas in the urban landscape.
Doing this worldwide would solve most of the world’s water problems. We don’t have to treat all parts of all watersheds. Some parts of the landscape are healthy, and some can regain health easily if we stop beating nature over the head.
Each property needs it own design. Solutions are adapted to local cultures and benefit the people who install the systems and do the maintenance.  Locally appropriate species of plants are used.
The cost of doing all this is minimal and has a great payback.  I have gone into great detail on how many people it would take and how much it would cost in my 2010 paper
A Carbon Sequestration Proposal for the World - Based on Reforestation, Improved Ecosystem Management & Increasing Soil Carbon Levels in Farm Soils
There is also a great deal of information in my 525-page book Restoration Forestry: An International Guide to Sustainable Forestry Practices. 1994, Kivaki Press. Out of print. I have a few copies for sale.  $40 postpaid.


Anyone looking for a permaculture tropical paradise to buy in Panama? Or perhaps on Maui?

By Michael Pilarski , January 9, 2016


1) A friend in Panama just tipped me off that Luminosity Farm on Bastimentos Island is for sale.

60.8 acres. I knew my good buddy Bruce Hill was living in Panama for the last 10 years and planting a permaculture agroforest there. Bruce is one of the best permaculturists I know and his specialty is agroforestry systems and guilds. I don’t know the price but the sales pitch sounds expensive. And one of the things that makes the price tag so high is Bruce Hill’s permaculture planting. This is true value.

I have mixed feelings about gringos buying up local land in many parts of the world and driving up local prices, but establishing permaculture models that are beneficial to locals is worthwhile. It is great to see some photos of Bruce and his plant community. If anyone ever sees Bruce tell him to email Michael Pilarski.

There are a lot of photos including plants and a network of canals and ponds.

Their website is www.bocasfruitforest.com

Also there is info at https://www.bocasfruitforest.com/farm-for-sale.html


2) Kanahena Farm on Maui is selling a portion of their property.

The link to the Panama property is Bruce Hill. Bruce developed and planted Kanahena Farm with farm owner, Michael Howden. When I visited Maui in 1996 and ensuing years I became friends with both of them. They started planting in 1986 and when I visited ten years later it was one of the best agroforestry systems I have ever seen in person. The trees are much bigger now. Michael Howden passed the property on ten years ago, but the plantings are still there. There are lots of photos of their lush landscape which is surprizing since it is set in a dry part of the Ulupalakua district. The price tag is $1.1 million.


Now, I realize that very few of my readers will have the means to buy either of these properties. The point I wanted to make here is that permaculture plantings are valuable. They can really make the price of a property go up. They hold their value over the long run. Buildings and human infrastructure run down but plants are reverse entropy. They just get better (or that is, the planting gets better) over time. We need a lot more people permaculturing their properties. Making them biodiverse, ecologically rich, economically productive and beautiful.

If anyone wants to attend my next Permaculture Design Course it will be held in Seattle over 6 weekends from March 4 to May 22. See details on this website.


Syntropic Agriculture

Here is a youtube of a guy in Brazil that has come up with something he calls Syntropic Agriculture.  Very much along the lines of permaculture and analog forestry. Great example of a large-scale system (1200 acres). Ecologically and economically looks good.  Some of it is pretty straight-lined but some looks wilder. "Life in Syntropy" is the new short film from Agenda Gotsch made specially to be presented at COP21 - Paris. This film put together some of the most remarkable experiences in Syntropic Agriculture, with brand new images and interviews.