WATER: More Valuable than Gold

by Julia Nelson

A new approach to land stewardship at EVI

With one environmental disaster after another circulating in the news, it is easy to see the dire impact that too much, or too little water can have on the environment. In the Finger Lakes region, we have not suffered the extremes of California wildfires, or the massive flooding in South Asia, but we have had our share of intense weather events. In 2016 we experienced the worst drought on record, and in 2017 the Spring rains, while welcomed, were abnormally heavy and then the frequency of rain dropped off significantly as the summer continued. Climate change analysis for our region predicts that we will experience a continued trend of more intense storm events with longer dry spells in between. With this knowledge in mind, what can be done to further EVI’s mission of ecological sustainability and resilience? How can EVI maintain a progressive stewardship of land viable for agricultural use?

The most valuable agricultural resource is water. The importance of intelligent management becomes central to sustainability. With the price of water on the rise, farming practices regarding water need to adapt to the changes of environmental conditions. In a landscape that hasn’t been designed to manage water effectively, gravity carries water and soil down the path of least resistance very quickly,  and the potential benefits to the land are lost.  Imagine if you were to pour a bucket of water onto a dry garden bed. Only a small percentage of that water actually sinks into the ground before escaping and pooling at the lowest point, leaving your veggies thirsty.  It acts like a flash thunderstorm which, without adequate control, causes flooding and erosion. With the possibility of more intense storms and drought in the near future, the land that EVI stewards needs suitable protection to ensure viability.

When a more proactive approach is taken, a comprehensive water management system can be woven into the very fabric of the land through strategically shaping key points in the landscape to maximize the potential of the water. These earthworks, such as terraces and swales, slow the water down and spread it out over a larger percentage of acreage, giving it the opportunity to sink into the topsoil. Once the system has been accumulating water for several years, it will become increasingly resistant to severe drought. Damage from flooding will also be minimized, as the water will be directed in such a way that it will not accumulate where it isn’t supposed to be. This solution, once implemented, can last for hundreds of years and will allow the land to become like a sponge, absorbing water, controlling erosion, restoring habitat, building rich topsoil, and be less reliant on municipal water for agricultural needs.

When water is directed to where it needs to go in the landscape, farming will benefit from an integrated water source that creates a foundation, paving the way for a rich ecosystem of diverse food crops for people, and a healthy habitat for animals. Back in October EVI brought in Mark Shepard, author of Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers, to help envision what could be possible here. There is immense potential for perennial tree and shrub crops, integration with annuals, all working in harmony with pastured animals. This wholistic relationship works synergistically to build healthy topsoil, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, creating a sustainable system that requires minimal outside input. This Spring, April 27th through 29th, EVI will be hosting a Water Management Workshop led by Mark Shepard and Restoration Agriculture Development. Participants will have the opportunity to witness a large scale installation of a comprehensive water management system right here on EVI land. There will be class time to learn about Restoration Agriculture, terrace and swale design, along with actual hands on experience in a real world context.

You can find out more about Mark Shepard’s work at https://restorationag.com/ and https://newforestfarm.us/ . Reserve your spot for this workshop today, https://www.eviinc.org/ and spread the word to those who may be interested. We look forward to having others share our enthusiasm and grow in knowledge with us!