flood waters - CC0 via Pixabay
Something Else

Rain events, climate change, and community flooding

Over the past weekend our community saw 7″ of rain within a 24-hour period. Most of that precipitation came down within about 90 minutes. It is easy to recognize this kind of event as a climate-change related phenomena. Such events are becoming more frequent for our area. Rather than a persistent drought, we are likely to see more rain in more intense events like this one. Our community began tracking rainfall in 1895. From 1910 to 1990 there were 10 of the highest rainfalls on record. Between 1991 and 2021 we’ve had 10. The flooding that resulted was deadly and damaging. We need to respond on a personal level with our own home-designs, and on a community level. 

A couple of things to consider

A local activist berated city leadership for investing in public structures like a parking garage instead of better addressing climate change (1). This kind of concern–and even righteous indignation– is understandable, but he did not offer any productive suggestions. I think it would be more helpful to point toward what is needed and offer compelling arguments based on data and observation of what is working. For example, a wetlands project on the north side of the city managed the water flow from several neighborhoods and showed remarkable resilience.

Our community needs similar projects which daylight and filter water flows throughout the community. One of the more challenging aspects of these rain events is the channelized flow of water from campus through the middle of the city. For decades this waterway has been sent underground — under businesses. How many cycles of flooded basements and businesses can we carry forward into the future?

Adapting permaculture

Permaculture originated in an area dealing with decades-long droughts. Swales and ponds to catch and store water make a lot of sense in a dry climate. However, in a temperate area with increasing rainfall, design solutions cannot be haphazardly adopted.

I have been advising against placing swales upslope from structures for a while now. Saturating the water table above a foundation will not work in this area any longer. I believe French drains are also insufficient. Rather, earthworks that consistently and reliably move water around and away from foundations make sense. Put your swales and water-catchment earthworks either to the side or down slope to protect your home.

We can use the design process to safeguard our homes AND increase life-sustaining systems. I calculated that in our small yard, the “upslope” generated about 29,790 gallons of water in about 90 minutes. This doesn’t include confirmed runoff from neighboring properties upslope.

People regularly underestimate what is going on. A 50-gallon rain barrel is not sufficient to irrigate a garden. How did the rain gardens fare during the recent events? My suspicion is that they were not especially helpful. (Contact me if you have data to the contrary.)

Rather, a slightly different kind of earthwork can direct water where we want it to go and provide interesting opportunities for cultivating life and living well. Tanks, cisterns, “dry” creek beds, ponds, and other catchments and holding systems can benefit us, and reduce the amount of runoff municipal systems have to deal with, but we need better observation and analysis. We need better design. Ultimately, there are difficult choices ahead.

 

  1. To be fair, this person has made many suggestions over the years. The post I saw did not.

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IU students in the garden
Something Else

Why invest in a PDC?

This post is likely to change over time…just as our understanding of how permaculture fits in the world changes over time. 

It is often said there are as many definitions of permaculture as there are practitioners. One of the permaculture elders documented dozens of definitions many years ago. Just the same, everyone comes to study permaculture for different reasons.

2008 Ohio PDC

Here are some of the things Rhonda has seen and recognized after teaching the design course for more than fifteen years:

Permaculture designers and educators have curated some of the best strategies, tools, and techniques to support anyone in the work of Earth Repair. Because permaculture designers work from an integrated, systems approach, the capacity to come up with elegant, efficient solutions have been noted by leaders in Earth Repair projects (including the Ecosystem Restoration Camps). By extension, permaculture projects can build resilience into communities and regions. This might be an extension of #4 if we agree that earth repair is a global need. At the same time, there have been incredible inspirations and connections on a community-level through permaculture-inspired movements like Transition Towns, and similar efforts. 

Permaculture helps people do their own work. Whether you are looking to start a farm, want to improve your veggies, or start a neighborhood project…permaculture design helps people make significant progress in their goals for living a more resilient life. Most students conclude it is one of the best investments of their time and energy, and that they wish they’d taken the course earlier in their lives. (We’re working on how to work with children more, too!) Some of my best design clients also either took the course first, or after the design was in the implementation phase. The PDC is just the beginning.

Studying layers and systems in Belize, 2018.
Studying layers and systems in Belize, 2018.

Others who are passionate about solving problems and leaving the world a better place. The sense of community and the connection to others exploring the same territory is always valuable. The network of practitioners continues to grow around the world, and they can inspire each other to keep going and keep improving. (That’s part of the reason Rhonda loves editing Permaculture Design so much.)

Permaculture opens doors to the connections between many disciplines in a practical way. With permaculture, I found that I have license to dive into everything from policy to architecture to biology to physics to archeology and so much more. It can be overwhelming to adult learners to defy our society’s push toward specialization, but part of permaculture’s powerful paradigm shifts are facilitated by emphasizing the connections and perspectives gained by doing so. It also gave me space to talk about familial history, skills, and understanding in a way that honors the success and challenges of those who came before me while working to make life for those who come after a bit better.

Food. Water. Shelter. Energy. Mainstream society’s means of providing these basic needs to date have been incredibly damaging to the earth and to people. Our health, economic, and governance systems balance on the precipice of collapse because of this. Beyond this, people have real needs for belonging, participation, autonomy, and creativity which are ignored within the fast-paced, crushing nature of society. Permaculture seeks to meet the real needs (not all of the wants) in a way which brings us together.

bee and coneflower

The PDC facilitates understanding of the shifting dynamics of the world around us. When we pull one thread, sometimes unexpected things happen. When we build soil, plant trees, establish pollinator gardens, invite the neighbors to tea, or stop flying or driving as much there are also (hopefully) positive consequences. Permaculture can help us see these threads and learn to act in increasingly positive cycles. 

Permaculture design complements other communities of learners and practitioners. Because permaculture design process incorporates analysis and strategies from many different sources, it is also allied with many different practices, groups, and disciplines. Nature Connection people, agroecology, agroforestry, Holistic Management, ecovillages, vegan and vegetarianism, sociocratic governance systems, and many other movements blend well with permaculture. What I find especially helpful to recognize, is that as long as the ethics are observed, permaculture is a design process–a problem-solving approach, which can unite people across many differences in action towards common aims. I find that hopeful. 

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