Plug The Losses – Improve Permaculture Design Flow Tools

April Sampson-Kelly and Nick Radford, discuss how good designs plug losses. Like closing a door on a cold day, these actions build efficiency with very little effort.

Creatively Cut Losses

My first response to a design when I’m called in to consult is to look at where the losses are on a site and try to plug the losses. Not completely so that water floods the site. But sufficiently so that the site is not losing nutrients and losing water that it may need. So, I guess you identify the needs of the site. And then I go about plugging the losses. This could be the losses of nutrients water and organic matter that can flow away from the site. Or in a social context, the losses could be people we fail to include.

Water used to stream down the path

Leaky Weirs

Nick gives an example of about a fresh site that is often degraded., “There’s too fast a movement of that water. It will be moving too fast. And it will be carrying with it soil. And you’ll see erosion. Lee Davidson was a teacher of mine he’s this amazing Wastewater Guru from Lismore Uni and he had the 80/20 rule where he said you can do 80% of the job with 20% of the resources. Plugging – leaky plugging the big leaks is a classic example of that. And you can often just put stuff in the way to slow things down.

redirect path water to reduce erosion

Peter Andrews (author of Back from the Brink: How Australia’s Landscape Can Be Saved) , would have his water system at a creek where it would be dry. But then it would flood. But briefly. And then dry out again. And he would just put stuff in the way. He used logs and plants and he didn’t care if they were weeds or rocks or whatever. And it would slow things down. That’s what a leaky plug does.

Erosive waters in Suburbia

For students who want to just get started – they can recognize where is there erosion. Where can you see soil? are there bare spots? Is that unnatural? Sometimes nature is trying to convert this place into a thicker covered land. And so you can just help it along by plugging the leaks and putting stuff in the way. Whether it’s a pile of mulch or rocks or logs or whatever”. Nick notes “A good leaky plug will operate under all different flow regimes.

Aboriginal Flow Control Techniques

The Brewarrina Fish Traps central pools use low flow. There’s little fish traps in there. And then, when you got floods it doesn’t wash away. And further afield, there’s higher ground shaped for the traps. Nick says “It would be amazing to learn from for our water management. I’m deliberately making pipes leak in certain situations. So, when you’ve got gentle flow most of what is coming through is going to drip out of the pipe and into a garden bed. But when you got full-on flood flowing most of that water is going to get carried through the pipe.

Angles not Barriers

And when if you’re arranging logs to support soil you don’t want to make a barrier.

“Bill Mollison said “when you if you put a a barrier in the way of flow it will break” so there a bit of technique for how do you make this leaky plug do its job without being destroyed in the peak times. And often you angle it. So, if you put in a log in the way of a water flow, you’ll angle it. The slow flow will nestle up against the log and just slowly pass across it. And when water slows it drops silt and you get soil buildup. During an intense flow you’re not blocking the flow. The water keeps going.

Dianella plant: a bush tucker and soil conserver

Plants Adapt to Flow Change

Ultimately, plants are the masters of this dilemma. I was talking of Lee Davidson before he went to all these storm water drains and where they were just smooth concrete and they were polluting the the ocean because everything was going in the drain such as car oil and all sorts of toxic stuff. And they just going straight into the into the sea. And so they deliberately planted reeds in the base of these big concrete drains and during slow flow the reads would just filter out all of the particles. And they sit there and the reeds would hold this together and gradually build the floor of the the concrete drain. But then when you’ve got full-on flood they just lie down and cover that soil and and protect themselves. We’ve got many allies out there in nature.

Thank you to Home and Garden Designer Nick Radford of Bellingen Permaculture.
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