The Weekly Watch
Directing the Flow with the Magic of Water
What a long, wet week its been. About a foot of rain last week. It rained every day. It's just breaking up today with a forecast of a few dry sunny days. So with water flowing everywhere, it seems a natural topic for this column. Like other lifeforms, we are mostly water. Water is life. Over two thirds of our planet is covered with water. However less than 2% is fresh water, and most of that tied up as ice. As the climate continues to become more extreme, we can expect both more droughts and more flooding. However if we manage our environment sustainably we can cope with these wild variations.
Consider the same farm flooding and in a drought. The same design and management scheme helps the farm to weather both extremes. Let's look at a permaculture approach in Australia in both extremes...(10 min)
...and the same farm a year or two earlier in drought. (4.5 min)
Every ecosystem is unique. Here in NE Alabama, the temperate deciduous forests are the sponge and the storage. Before the advent of fossil fuels (somewhere around 1900), the forest provided fuel and raw materials for construction and so on. Lookout Mountain was denuded. Even as coal was mined on the mountain, trees were used.
By the turn of the century erosion was extensive across the south. Cotton is not a nutrient demanding crop, but it takes a long time to mature, accelerating erosion with mule width rows and bare soils. Southern soils were washed away. The dust bowl awoke many, and
in the '30's, FDR's SCS (soil conservation service) assisted farmers in creating terraces and other water management projects (as did TVA).
This is nothing new. Humans have dealt with both flood and drought over time. When studentofearth was writing his farm reports, he had a pivot to China. As a result I learned about the Great Yu a historical myth famed for his water engineering.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6ZqdrBwGYI (3 min)
Remnants of 5000 year old canals, dikes, and dams have recently been discovered.
Four years of research have revealed that the water management system of the Liangzhu, an agricultural Neolithic society known for their jade objects, took an estimated 3,000 people nearly a decade to build, and pushes back the date of China's earliest known large-scale water engineering project to about 5,100 years ago.
The artificial control of water at Liangzhu enabled an unprecedented scale of rice farming and support of thousands of people within the city’s sphere of influence, but furthermore This political aspect cannot be observed directly in an ancient archaeological context without written records, yet it can be inferred through the numbers of functional elements in the Liangzhu hydraulic landscape, the scale and complexity of labor organization, and associated religious beliefs potentially reflecting social order and political authority. A labor force of thousands of people must have been organized in divisions and possible subdivisions by a central authority and likely an organizational hierarchy.
Dujiangyan is the oldest and only surviving no-dam irrigation system in the world; and a wonder in the development of Chinese science. The project consists of three important parts, namely Yuzui, Feishayan and Baopingkou scientifically designed to automatically control the water flow of the rivers from the mountains to the plains throughout the year.
Yuzui, like a big fish lying in the Minjiang River, is a watershed dividing the river into two parts: inner river and outside river. Feisha Yan is a spillway that diverts the sand and stones of the inner river into the outer river. Baoping Kou, like a neck of a bottle, is used to bring water into the inner river from Minjiang. At the same time, Baoping Kou controls the amount of the intake water due to its reasonable location. These three parts interact with each other perfectly to form an effective water conservancy project. During the low-water season, 60% of the Minjiang water is brought into the inner river for irrigation while 40% of the water is drawn into the outside river. The situation is reversed in the flood season ensuring the water supply for irrigation and protection from flooding on the Chengdu Plain.
The Dao philosophy came about as these projects were created...
Very little is known about the author of the DAO DE JING, which is attributed to Lao-zi. According to the historian Sima Qian who wrote about 100 BC, Lao-zi lived during the sixth century BC in the state of Chu in China and in the imperial capital Luoyang held the office of shi which in ancient China meant a keeper of the archives and sacred books who also may have been skilled in astrology and divination.
Water Metaphors in Dao de jing: A Conceptual Analysis
Water is explicitly described as sustaining the growth of 萬物wan wu “everything in the world” but willing to dwell at the lowest places. For this reason, it resembles the features of dao. In other chapters, it is described as flowing from higher to lower places and the lower it goes, the greater the power it gathers. it appears to be soft and weak, but it can overcome the hard and strong ...
Nothing in the world is as soft and weak as water and yet in attacking what is hard and strong, there is nothing that can surpass it
Dao flows easily which can run in any direction. Dao is the pouring together of all things. One of the central concepts of Dao de jing is the the image of water flowing downwards to gather its strength. Moreover, strength-through-weakness can be thought of as supporting Dao de jing’s view on the relationship between the two opposites.
Water is and has been a spiritual guide for many civilizations.
Master Gu explains the yin yang and touches on how water reflects it's nature
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJNEvjwipO0 (8 min)
Master Gu on finding your Yin Yang balance
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFhZo4QjhQI (9 min)
First nations people also have a spiritual relationship with water. A story from Pat McCabe, a Navajo and Lakota activist, explains how to tap into the magic and mystery of water.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeeAMNxuqio (5 min)
So it is in the nature of things to see...
So to manage water, you slow down its flow and create storage features like swales and ponds. You use the contours, the topography of the land to design for good water management. https://permaculturenews.org/2013/02/22/before-permaculture-keyline-plan...
The first Keyline book was published in 1954. In it, P.A. Yeomans exploded the myth that it takes 1,000 years to produce an inch of topsoil. Yeomans pioneered, among other things, the use of farm irrigation dams in Australia, as well as chisel plows and subsoil aerating rippers. Yeomans perfected a system of amplified contour ripping that controlled rainfall run off and enabled the fast flood irrigation of undulating land with out the need for terracing.
A keyline design is unique to each property and will be formed from evaluation of water movements over the land with the idea of controlling and making use of this resource in the management of the land.
Water movement over the land and the land's features are directly related to each other, and water resources can only be used if they can be controlled.
Other factors such as climate, geology and rainfall patterns originally determined the land's topography. Water is the main focus in keyline planning as this is one variable which is easily controlled and manipulated.
Once the keypoints and keylines have been identified the control of water movement over the land can be achieved through a keyline pattern of cultivation.
Keyline cultivation aims to spread the run-off water away from the centre of the valley to minimise the flow concentration in this area.
By cultivating parallel to identified keylines, both above and below the line, a cultivation pattern is developed which spreads the run-off evenly across the valley and does not allow the water to follow its natural path and concentrate in the valleys. This aids in the stabilisation of the valley and increases its ability to resist erosion and wash-outs.
Ironically this is also the technique to green deserts. Using the process and other tricks to capture water. Watch this desert project become green (10 years in 4 minutes)...
Here's more on the construction of wicking beds (which might be of interest to those of you gardening in a dry climate.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxXfa0YGQvM (8.5 min)
So we know we face ever more extremes. Higher temperatures means air can hold more water, thus increasing the severity of both droughts and floods. Managing water is something humans have done for thousands of years. Perhaps we have forgotten more than we remember, but new ways of practicing these old techniques are emerging.
So why all this focus on agriculture, water, and soils? Well it really touches all the issues we usually discuss at c99. The level of change required to escape extinction can't be overstated. Reconnecting to the planet is something we must do in order to survive. The society, the global community will have to be restructured. I think the sunrise movement, extinction rebellion, and Greta's school strikes show us that young people are ready for that change. We can and should help. Be a gardening revolutionary.
"The ultimate purpose of farming is not the cultivation of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of the human being"
Masanobu Fukuoka, the Author of 'The One-Straw Revolution', and the originator of Natural or 'do-nothing' farming.
This green revolution is political, and water is a perfect example of what I mean. Consider the water crisis in California for example...
After years of drought, California has finally had a deluge of rain. But with much of the state's water supply being sent to LA, people in drought-affected areas feel they've been left high and dry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ts8PfO4KSk (22 min)
Supply isn't the only issue. Pollution can make an ample water supply toxic.
Notice how no one mentions Flint anymore? Well their water still contains lead...
Jordan Chariton is still reporting on the situation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E_ORlzRIwQ (10 min)
Contaminated groundwater is common. I would have my well tested if I lived near a military base or superfund site. In more than a dozen other states, the Air Force has acknowledged contaminating drinking water in communities close to its bases. They finally admit it.
For more on this topic, here's an interview with two investigative reporters focused on this problem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifvZo7fmHmc (15 min)
When the MSM covers water issues they always seem to focus on the third world global south. Here's a National Geo / p&g piece about the very real water crisis people face, and how clean water can change peoples lives..but it is presented as a third world problem.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vsgVqsZ3Po (44 min)
Cape Town may be the first major city to run out of water. They are in crisis.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iamRLhjuZwA (24 min)
Water (and food) is political and has been through time.
Vandana Shiva was interviewed about her new book, “Oneness vs. the 1%.” Shiva is an Indian scholar, physicist, and food sovereignty and seed freedom advocate. She was was born in Doon Valley in the Himalayan foothills.
...central India is called Vidarbha. It is the place where Gandhi moved to create his final ashram, to create a totally democratic society. And for him, That’s why he pulled at the spinning wheel. And for me, the seed is today’s spinning wheel.
...in the United States, half the farmlands are overtaken by superweeds. The most important one is Palmer amaranth. Amaranth is a sacred crop for us. We eat it. Now, the U.S. Defense system DARPA and Bill Gates have joined hands for a new technology called gene drives to push species to extinction. And they want to drive the amaranth to extinction. And there’s a footnote in that report saying, “Oh, yeah, there will be a food insecurity impact on India. They eat amaranth.” No, there will be a food security impact on the world. There is an—this is an acceleration of the race to extinction. It is immoral. It should be made illegal.
So, we’ve just done a book on biodiversity, agroecology and regenerative organic agriculture, which is 31 years of our practice and research, because We find we can feed two times India’s population—two times India’s population—by conserving biodiversity, providing more nutrition per acre, the more biodiverse the system, and organic systems produce more nutrition. Farmers earn 10 times more by not spending precious money on chemicals and big machines.
And the Monsantos and the Bayers of the world are imagining an agriculture without farmers, farming without farmers, farming with drones, farming with spyware in the tractors, farming with robots, farming with artificial intelligence. They’re talking about digital agriculture where you don’t need people. But that means no one to care for the land, because agriculture means care for the land.
You get rid of chemicals, you get rid of fossil fuels, and you start doing organic, all that excess carbon can be pulled back by the plants and put back in the soil, which is why I wrote the book Soil Not Oil. When you put nitrogen-fixing plants, the pulses—you know, everyone’s now talking of plant-based diets, proteins from plants. We did it in India forever with our lovely dal, our pulses. They fix nitrogen nonviolently. You don’t have to blast fossil fuels at high temperature to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The plants have the intelligence to do it, peacefully, and give us good protein, the same way, while fixing the broken nitrogen cycle, which if you look at the planetary boundaries graph, the nitrogen cycle is and the biodiversity system is the most abused.
(worth watching or reading the entire interview)
To tie this all together, and emphasize the way it is all connected, I want to feature this interview with Dahl Jamail and Chris Hedges...(27 min)
There is so much more to discuss about the magic of water. It is a polar or magnetic molecule. It expands when it freezes (so that ice floats). It releases (or requires) great energy to change phases...solid, liquid, and vapor. It heats differently than land masses creating winds and currents. The ancients considered it to be one of the four elements of the universe. Quite simply, water is life. Too much water and we drown. Not enough, and we die of dehydration. It is a balance, which adds to the spiritual nature people place on water. The way we live on our planet is a balance that we currently are tipping in the direction of extinction. It is beyond politics (although that plays a role), and requires we adapt to this rapid change which is coming. Water will be key in our transition and will require planning, justice, and equity.
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.