Water retention landscapes: The solution to the water challenge we are facing

Inspired by my training in Tamera last year and witnessing the challenges we face in Portugal and around the world with the lack of water, our focus on water retention becomes ever more a priority. This 2017, the Portuguese dry period has lasted longer than any locals can remember. No rain for many months and the wells and water sources, usually abundant, are dried up. In the last few months 4,000 bore holes have been made in Portugal, taking water from the earths aquifers which drys up the centre of our planet. Water is being shipped in from other parts of the country to supply cities who's reservoirs have dried up. Is the planet drying up quicker than any of us ever imagined?

In 2018 we will install a 100,000 litre water tank that will be used to store water when there is (hopefully) rain water abundance once again through the winter months. This will feed into 4 pipes to distribute around the land for our own water usage and crucial irrigation needs. We will be implementing swales around the land to retain the water and begin our strategic pine clearing and reforestation programme alongside mixed ground cover and bee vegetation.

As described by Tamera:

Water is life. But worldwide deforestation, poor grazing practices, mono-culture, and the covering of large areas of land with asphalt and concrete destroy what Viktor Schauberger called the 'full hydrological cycle' by preventing rainwater from being taken into the body of the earth. Huge amounts of water run off the earth's surface too quickly, causing erosion, flooding and droughts. This is happening worldwide and it is one significant cause of desertification and climate change.

Bernd Müller from Tamera says, “A Water Retention Landscape is a landscape with no rainwater run-off. Only fresh spring water leaves the land. The rain which falls on this area is taken up by the vegetation or the body of the earth and recharges the groundwater.”

A healthy mixed forest with shaded humus-rich earth is a natural Water Retention Landscape: vegetation and humus accept the rainwater, which matures in the earth and sees the light of day again as spring water. But if the natural forests have been destroyed, the unprotected earth is swept away and what soil remains becomes hot and hard in the sun, losing its capacity to hold water. The land becomes steppe, and eventually desert.

A Water Retention Landscape created by people can reverse this process. Various measures can be taken to create a Water Retention Landscape:

  • Reforestation and the planting of mixed-culture ground cover vegetation.

  • Holistic grazing management

  • Keyline design

  • Terracing

  • Swales

  • The construction of water retention spaces in the form of de-centralized lakes and ponds

All of these measures aim to slow rainwater runoff so that the water can seep into the earth and return the land to fertility. If these principles are understood and applied they can rehabilitate the Earth.

Tamera began a Water Retention Landscape in 2007. To date they have ongoing reforestation and terracing and numerous lakes and ponds surrounded by shoreline terraces: food-producing biotopes where fruit and vegetables thrive even in high summer. The biological diversity in and around the water has visibly increased: Tamera has become a year-round attraction for birds, otters and other animals.

The groundwater table has stabilised. Since 2011 the community of Tamera supplies all of its drinking water needs from wells that are fed by the Water Retention Landscape. Soon after “Lake 1” was created, a new spring appeared, feeding a small stream which flows from Tamera to the neighbouring land all year round.

Correct water management is the basis for reforestation and sustainable food production. Creating a sound basis for water management is therefore the highest priority for any area of land. Sepp Holzer, a permaculture thought leader says, “Once the water is correctly managed, 70% of the work is done.”

The principles of Water Retention Landscapes are applicable under almost all circumstances, applied and modified according to the climatic and geographic situation and the desired land-use.

The basic concepts of water retention are described in detail in the text by Bernd Walter Müller, “The Secret of Water”.

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