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How would you garden in a flood plain?

 
pioneer
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The US real estate market is absolutely bananas right now. The incredibly high prices are driven in large part by institutional investors and land developers - so if you want to keep the price low while searching for property, you need to find places that are unappealing to them. This includes land with steep slopes, incredibly overgrown brush, things that make putting a building down difficult. One particular scenario I'm interested in is areas that flood.

IF one wanted to live on a property with seasonal flooding it would be difficult, but one could live nearby and come to the property to work on it. But it raises the question of how you could get a yield from it. When I try researching plants that do well with flooding a lot of it is about decorative plants. There's also the issue of potential contaminants being brought into your land from nearby.

Perhaps you could have a dense planting of plants like reeds and willows in the area water flows in from, to filter the water as it enters the property. Then do some sort of earthworks to divert the water around and try to keep it from flooding severely. Or build some islands that can hold moisture loving perennials. A lot of permaculture advice is about getting water to stay in the soil, rather than dealing with too much of it.

How would you design a homestead/garden for an area that floods?
 
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If I were to consider a property like you are describing I would want to observe it for at least a year or more.

To me, planting a garden in a flood plain could work two ways.

It might help provide irrigation for plants or the plants might get washed away every time it rains.

That is why I am suggesting to observe the land before making an expensive investment.
 
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flooding is one of my nightmares - i wouldn't even consider it - unpredictable x 100000

and yes - contaminants of all kinds could come from anywhere ... so again a no..

not trying to be a downer - just honest - this is the kind of thing that leads to heartbreak
 
pollinator
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Give us more information.  When does it flood?  For how long?  What zone do you live in?  Would it work to use swales?  Are you prohibited from using berms to hold back water?  Do you have a lot of bats/martins for getting rid of mosquitoes?  Have you researched chinampas?  Or how people live in the swampy areas of Louisiana or Georgia or any swampy areas really.  Can you harvest fish?  Rice?  
 
Malek Beitinjan
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I didn't really have a specific property in mind. You raise a great point that there are many types of wetlands.
 
Sherri Lynn
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When I am having trouble with something I first try to find out who was successful before me, before I start coming up with my own original ideas (which will flow anyway.)  I have never grown in a floodplain, but I would do the same type of research for it as I do for everything else.  I am just quite interested in the Permaculture principle of turning a problem into a solution.
 
Malek Beitinjan
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I found a property in Roanoke that's in a floodplain: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/4774-Pioneer-Dr-Roanoke-VA-24012/12568483_zpid/

On the surface it seemed fine, but I knew that further research was needed, which led me to some useful tools! FEMA maintains an online map you can use to look up flood zones. I've also learned they have different designations for specific types of flood zones.

Armed with this knowledge, I checked the property above and found that it is what's known as an AE floodplain. This means that it is the base floodplain from which all elevation measurements are made when calculating how safe houses are from flooding. So it's reasonable to expect that the entire property gets VERY deeply flooded depending on how much rain falls. Supposedly there's an abandoned homestead on there - I wonder what state it's in!

I think you all are right that I need to both observe a given property for a long time and research aquatic farming methods to make this viable. This property in particular seems like it would be very challenging, since it would be the first place to be submerged anytime flooding occurs. I found an interesting article from a group of academics recommending planting flood plains with perennial food species as a form of wetland management. What perennials do you think would be useful in an area that floods seasonally?
 
Anne Miller
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What perennials do you think would be useful in an area that floods seasonally?



Native perennials would be the best choice.  What trees are native to the area? What native berries?
 
pollinator
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Malek Beitinjan wrote:

Perhaps you could have a dense planting of plants like reeds and willows in the area water flows in from, to filter the water as it enters the property. Then do some sort of earthworks to divert the water around and try to keep it from flooding severely. Or build some islands that can hold moisture loving perennials. A lot of permaculture advice is about getting water to stay in the soil, rather than dealing with too much of it.

How would you design a homestead/garden for an area that floods?



Buy somewhere else, I've lived in a bog with the watertable less than a foot down, it kills most things and those that can live there like alder do not live long.

Depending on climate reeds and willows will do nothing for winter flooding, they are dormant at that time.

The whole holding onto water thing does amuse me, It is very hard to find advice on how to get rid of water people don't seem to be able to understand that some areas simply have way to much and don't want it to soak into the soil. What does work where I was with a suspended water table is a ditch all the way round the uphill side of the property. To intercept as much water as possible from coming onto the property in the first place and just channel it straight into the nearest drainage ditch. This of course only works on a property with a slope.  
Where I am now I live on a chalk hill we get more than enough rain that I don't want to hold water here either. there are field drains, but they are not for my benefit they are for the neighbours. Without them the water runs through my soil, hits the silty soil down hill pops back up and floods their house. with them it's directed into their drain system and we all keep dry feet.
 
pollinator
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Certainly in our region where flooding is a given, this issue will be determined partly by the desire to build on, or occupy in some way, floodplain property, but just as much by county and state codes.  For example, due to flooding records just within the past 30 years, it's likely that our current home, built around 1915, would not be habitable unless it were moved farther away from the river we live next to.....the current floodmaps for zoning and planning would not allow it.  Because the floodplain soil is an old glacial lakebed, the soil moves easily:  Thus, our house is not close to the river due to the placement there originally,---rather the riverbend moved closer to the house over decades of riverbank erosion.

That said, if ring-diked (see photo below for example from our region) *AND* if any of the new buildings were placed on raised ground in order to meet the elevation codes, flood-plain property could be used for a homestead.  In that case, the garden/crops would be within the ring-dike and protected for the most part from the seasonal flooding.  To be sure, we've had our experiences of a lot of work being put into a garden only to see it disappear under flood waters for too long in June or July, so that is not something we wish to revisit.  The garden now is ring-diked by itself in case that event occurs.  I must admit, due at least to the ability to ring-dike if finances permit it, I would rather take flood-prone than drought-inclined.
RingDike1.jpg
[Thumbnail for RingDike1.jpg]
 
pollinator
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Berms and ditches. Ditch to redirect flow, berms or dykes to limit ingress.

Septic field may be impossible.

Buildings OFF the ground: stilts, crawl space etc., ensure you are multiple feet ABOVE what is commonly referred to as "100 year" flood levels.

DO NOT waste your time if flooding is controlled by a real dam, flood gates or such up stream - these are controlled by man and will be released without notice causing flash flooding.

Flooding is usually tied to high rainfall/snow levels on mountains melting - so there will be a flood season. Usually this in in the "shoulder seasons" between spring/summer and fall/winter so plant and plan accordingly.
 
Posts: 45
Location: Colorado Springs, Zone 6a, 1/8th acre city lot.
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1+ on avoiding areas flooded by dams.
Hazelnuts were a specie that came to mind. Apparently they aren't overly harmed by being flooded. I'm not sure if they can survive on a permanent 1 ft water table but it might be worth a try. But I'd also be worried about what pollution is in the water.

Other ideas.
Bamboo
Cattails. but whether they would be profitable is another matter. They filter heavy metals out of the water
Willow/cottonwood. Probably not profitable.

DK
 
pollinator
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I think that image has been photoshopped but I have seen an actual property like that in Australia not far from my place.
We had unexpected flooding but this farm had the levees in place from the 1970s and while it looked funny when dry, it saved the house and machinery.
But the water was muddy brown not crystal blue.
Floodplains can be heart breaking, insurance would be impossible and I dont think its worth a risk, not even for nothing.
The cost of sorting out flood mitigation would make it the same price as something that will not flood.

I realise I sound glib, but a lot of effort needs to be put in to get "lucky".
I built a large company, from nothing, took risks, worked 7 days many hours spent cash wisely, only one new vehicle.
Friends would say, "you are lucky to do this or that", and I would explain how I got lucky and they discovered the reality.
Was it a great way to live, not sure, I am not close to my family, I have had great experiences and challenges and now I encourage others to think about not working 7 days a week
based on my experience.
WHAT am I saying, find a way to make things happen and you may get lucky.
 
Lorinne Anderson
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John, not so sure that is photo shopped...
Google the flooding on the Sumas prairie in BC...

Our news outlets have shown many properties JUST like this; the water isn't blue, just reflecting the blue sky. This is the disaster we are currently facing, and I am only referencing the destruction within 100km's of where we live, and less than 50km's from where the (Vancouver, BC, Canada) 2010 Winter Olympics were held.

I can't say for sure that is one of the properties that made the broadcasts, but that is what most of the farm homes looked like BEFORE the dike gave way in numerous places; then the water submerged them; most halfway to the roofline, others TO the rooflines.

This area is called the Fraser (after the river) Valley and encompasses Agassiz, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack to name just a few of the local communities (and our local 'breadbasket') in the Lower Mainland - 946 farms; hundreds of thousands of chickens, tens of thousand of cows....the images are heartbreaking.
 
pollinator
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One of my main garden areas is in a spot that often floods in early spring. The area is a low spot that accumulates snow melt from the surrounding hills. Because it's in a low spot, no soil gets washed away - in fact it's one of the only spots on the property that is silt, rather than sand and rock, because soil settles there.

Most years it doesn't flood much. You can walk around in rubber boots just fine. A couple years the water has been up to two or three feet deep, though. We've only been here six years, so we're still observing.

I have in ground beds for annual crops. By the time it's warmed up enough to plant, the water has receded. I think the water table stays high enough to be of use to at least some of the plants for part of the growing season. Because I have hot, dry summers and don't water anything, the high water table is a benefit to me.

I also have my main hugelculture in this area. I built it in the lowest lying spot with the idea that the mound could soak up flood water from the bottom and snowmelt from the top and be good and charged up for summer.

Most of my perennials are on the hugelculture. I have some fast growing ones like perennial kale, walking onions, etc. in some of the annual beds now as well. The last few years it hasn't flooded enough to hurt any of them.

If you consider bracken an edible, it grows fine in seasonally flooded areas. Elderberry seems happy. There's a grove of alder and birch that we coppice for firewood and for woodchips for the garden.
 
John C Daley
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Lorrine, those images of the Sumas prairie in BC are confronting, BUT I see the farming area was created by draining a lake, no wonder its flooded.
Maybe  the Netherlands has to help them how to keep it dry.
 
Lorinne Anderson
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I believe the discussion is "would you garden in a flood plain", then ring dikes, then a photo of a ring dike (that apparently was unbelievable)...not a discussion of historical wrongs done to aboriginals.

To that end, as mentioned previously, my suggestion was to build according to the worst case scenario, and then go higher. They are called flood plains for a reason (historically and currently), long before "europeans" intervened and adjusted landscapes to their liking, defying Mother Nature.
 
pollinator
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So, about 10 years ago I started working on an orchard in a floodplain, aptly named Floodplain Fruits.

In addition to knowing how often a place floods, when it floods tends to be just as important (if not more). If the property is in the floodplain of a river, the national weather service keeps a record of historical crests on the river. Here's the link to the records relevant to my property: https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/crests.php?wfo=ind&gage=lafi3&crest_type=historic Really old data isn't that useful due to things changing (e.g., dams and more pavement) so mainly look at the last 20 years. In my case, the big floods that occurred while I have owned the property were:

(9) 25.36 ft on 04/20/2013
(22) 23.01 ft on 02/22/2018
(24) 22.81 ft on 06/18/2015
(59) 21.11 ft on 12/29/2015
(73) 20.51 ft on 02/24/2014
(84) 20.04 ft on 04/05/2014

Of those, the only one that was bad was the 22.81 ft on 06/18/2015 because it occurred in the summer when the trees were fully leafed out. The two bigger floods didn't even phase the trees since they occurred during colder weather.

There's not much data available on relative fruit tree tolerance to flooding, but in my experience, pawpaws, persimmons, and pears are seem to be more flood tolerant than apples, peaches, and plums.
 
gardener
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Interesting topic.
To me, the contamination would be the most off putting part of the flooding, rivers are often industrial waste conduits.
If the government wasn't sure to be up in my business, I can see building workshops, air bnbs and greenhouses on rafts, and just accepting flooding as as temporary access issue.
A seasonal campground is the easiest way I see of getting a "yield"  from such land.
I would be inclined to grow timber, or at least biomass.
Willows are the obvious biomass plant.
I think fruit trees or vines are the bet bet for getting a yield of food from such a place.
I wonder if locust grow well in the wet, they could be a nitrogen fixing vine trellis.

I think, with the right stewardship and time, one might actually raise the overall level of the land, by catching and holding silt deposits.
You still might not want to grow food there, but you could expand the other viable uses this way.
Biochar making, forging, smelting, smoking  foods, woodfired baking, a solar energy collection, small scale hydro power, sweat lodges, fairgrounds, music venues, boat ramps...
Imagine building "boats" for people to live on, skirting issues of codes and needing property for them to be on.
Imagine adapting to the flood plan and buying up more of it, cheap, as the waters rises higher every year.

 
Daniel Kaplan
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I hadn't thought of the soil catching  possibility but you're absolutely right.

This thread has piqued my interested since I realized this is very similar to my in-laws place. They aren't really interested in using it for more that firewood production and recreation, though.

Supposedly plants don't store heavy metals in their reproductive parts. Not sure how far I'd trust that, but I would probably steer clear of growing greens there in favor of fruit and nut trees.

Firewood production would be a possible income source if you managed it well. Coppicing and such.

I think I'd want some kind of protective buffer on the upstream side like bamboo. It would let water in but maybe take some of the force out of it. And that's probably where the silt would get deposited. I was thinking cattails, too since they help filter out pollution. I'm not sure how much of their benefit I would get versus the downstream ecosystem but it seems like a good thing to do.

I'd want to eliminate the standing pools that result from flooding. Either drain everything back to the creek or build a pond. If the pond was done such as to last year round you could probably cultivate whatever fish took up residence during the flood. I suppose a pond might be the most logical place for the cattails.

A spot like this would have to be designed as zone 3/4.

I like the floating shed idea. It got me thinking about houseboats. I know in some areas there are lots of old boats just sitting around. I wonder if you could repurpose these into useful shed "foundations". Maybe pair hulls up for a catamaran for stability and so they land upright when the flood resides.

It could make an interesting high ropes course area during the flood.

While digging a drainage ditch today I started trying to pile all the dirt into piles. I'm not sure, but I think it could be useful to have slightly higher areas that will dry out faster. Not sure what the eventual effect will be but I'll watch and see.

That's all my ideas for now. Great thread!
DK
 
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I find this subject quite fascinating. Like Skandi, I also don't find a lack of water in my area. Possibly due to the glaciated nature of the valley, only the river bank of my property floods. However our rainfall average for a year is about 60 inches, falling throughout the year, a little less in spring perhaps. During the winter the silty soil is saturated and doesn't dry out till spring, so although not 'flooded' it sort of is. It is the winter wet that kills plants here rather than the cold.
Trees that don't mind the wet: common alder, hazel, rowan, willow, aspen, birch, spruce. Useful perennial plants include meadowsweet, silverweed, skirret, pignut, marsh woundwort. Berries such as raspberry and blackcurrants seem to love it, although I suspect they prefer the better drained parts. I've been planting a blueberry patch on some mini hugels to improve the aeration at the roots for them....early days yet.

By Christine Westerback, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9144686

At the bottom end of the Glen where it nears the sea, the land is flatter, more like a floodplain (in fact our local community hall was unfortunately built a couple of metres low and has flooded a couple of times recently) There is a bit of land for sale there, a couple of acres, which if I had the money I would be tempted by. It is a building plot though (just enough higher ground to get away with it)., so a bit expensive. I'd like to experiment with a crannog (see this reconstruction) and a maze of wooden walkways, ditches and dykes creating different growing enviroments. Lots of aquatic edibles including Wasabi should grow well there....
 
John Weiland
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Malek Beitinjan wrote:
IF one wanted to live on a property with seasonal flooding it would be difficult, but one could live nearby and come to the property to work on it. But it raises the question of how you could get a yield from it. When I try researching plants that do well with flooding a lot of it is about decorative plants. There's also the issue of potential contaminants being brought into your land from nearby.......................
How would you design a homestead/garden for an area that floods?



I think the ring-dike idea would offer some pretty workable solutions, albeit with an up-front price tag on dike installation.  It would be additionally prudent to research access roads to  the property to get some idea of flood potential between major travel arteries and the site on which you wish to build.  

Currently, the flood plain codes where we live (there are different distances from the  rivers that come with different codes) mandate that if you wish to build close to a river you may well have to ring dike the dwellings as a condition for building.... -AND- erect the buildings on raised land.  (Although I have not looked into stilted buildings, this would not be popular here due to the reduced insulating potential for such a cold winter climate.)  A plus of ring diking is immediately apparent when considering toxic constituents of the water during times of flooding.  If your food source/garden is kept within the ring dike, it will greatly lessen the potential for garden/food forest contamination over the years as well as loss of produce from flood waters.  From a different perspective, trees like cottonwood, elm, poplar, ash, etc. all do very well on  a flood plain and could be tended to outside of the ring dike, yet provide a source of wood for many purposes from home/shop heating to building materials.  Although many annuals will perish from 1-2 weeks of flood water, our observation is that most of the perennial hardwoods do not, even when the flooding occurs in summer months.

As an aside, I suspect the ring dike photo above is unedited.....and the additional image of Morris, Manitoba (Canada) below is along the  same river, just farther north, between the US-Canada border and Winnipeg.  The glacial lake that formed this flat region may just come back one day! :-)......   But in the meantime, the rich soil left behind is some of the most fertile in North America.

As another had mentioned, I like the idea of many 'grounded' houseboats that nevertheless function when the waters rise.  Just make sure to have it anchored with a very large chain for those not-infrequent tornadoes that pass through..... ;-)
MorrisMB.jpg
[Thumbnail for MorrisMB.jpg]
 
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Our climate is entering a period of more extreme weather, so I would definitely plan for that if you decide to attempt it.
Part of the theory of permaculture is to take "damaged" land and rehabilitate and turn it back into productive land. Flood plains tend to be fertile - it's their unpredictability and the danger of contaminants from upslope that I would want to investigate and defend against if needed.

1. A link from another thread says this, "Beaver ponds create wetlands which are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world (1) They increase plant, bird and wildlife variety, (2) improve water quality, (3) raise salmon and trout populations. This one species supports thousands of species."  https://holtslagconsulting.ca/about/  This makes me wonder if actually trying to make a pond on the land would have merit? Others have suggested the concept of chinampas, but even a very wiggly pond edge with lots of peninsulas, and using the deep part of the pond as the source of material for the raised parts would have potential.

2. I hear you about the possibility of living on higher ground and only farming/gardening on the low land, but I expect transportation will get more expensive as time goes on, so I support the ideas of essentially "building a houseboat" that will float when needed and making sure that it will be protected from debris/fast water, and building outbuildings similarly would be my approach. Most boats designed for water do not cope all that well with weight on them on land without very special supporting structures. However, the concrete "basements" made to order for modern houseboats can fill that purpose without difficulty. A friend of a friend did exactly that because he wanted to build on an island which was considered too dangerous for housing to be approved. He built his boathouse and got it licensed as a boat house, had it towed over to the island, and every hightide, accompanied by the right wind or storm, he'd ratchet it higher up onto the island until he was happy with the location. It hasn't moved since.

3. Much depends on what your goals are: do you want to feed your family, have an income, provide raw material that you can process into a product for sale, run an eco-fish farm, other ideas?  Something Sepp Holzer said comes to mind, (approximate quote) "I would never again have a farm which relies on a single product for sale." This was after his mushroom business tanked due to Chernobyl, even though his farm was in fact completely safe from the fall-out. If I was looking into land like you've found, I'd want multiple income streams that stacked functions to protect me from a single stream failing.
 
John C Daley
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The point about the area being an old lake bed is an important fact.
Flooding alongside rivers and even beyond is often made worse by communities unblocking creeks, drains wetlands etc such that when water overwhelms things it races through causing inundation.
In areas where the opposite has occurred either by choice or inaction to clear things, water is retained in the environment and downstream flooding is reduced, sometimes retension basins are built where large ares have been paved, to slow down runoff.

None of these principles apply when dealing with a lake bed.


 
John Weiland
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John C Daley wrote:........

None of these principles apply when dealing with a lake bed.



Agree with your comments here except for this last line.  Because of the flooding potential of the region ever since settlement by the Euro's in the 1800s, both records and anecdote have weighed in even to the present on the causes and solutions of flooding in the region.  To be sure, as noted, the lakebed flatness plays a role in localized flooding in a way that would not occur in many river valleys.  That said, the larger tilt of the region towards the central Red River still allows for advantages to be garnered from water retention.....and this is a significant factor in flood mitigation plans as the communities of Fargo and Moorhead, on opposite sides of the river, embark on their massive diversion plan.  A good website on this "water retention" aspect of the planning can be found here:  https://www.redriverretentionauthority.net/

Getting back to historical records and anecdote, the region for many decades was populated by those having grown up on farms, even if now in old age living in several of the urban areas of the region.  Many of those would agree at least with the 'correlation', even if not 'proof', that the loss over the decades of the 1900s of riparian buffer zones, sloughs, brushy/grassed ditches, and natural wetlands, concomittent with an increase in tile-draining of fields and fall season cultivation of fields has resulted in increased rates of spring-season flood runoff.  Much of the flooding in the region is *not* necessarily due to the rivers overflowing their banks, but rather to "overland flooding".....the accumulation of lake-size bodies of water during the spring thaw that slowly move over land towards the low spots (ultimately Red River and its tributaries).  This type of flooding can overcome small town drainage systems and farmsteads, even those that had not previously had a history of flooding, depending on the way the snow had accumulated, drifted, and released water over the winter to spring months.

So while flooding models based on 'typical' river basins are indeed different in many respects to (ancient) lake bottom flooding, there are still hold-back principles that can be implemented towards flood reduction.  A last factor in the Red River valley flooding spring flooding issue is the fact that it flows north to Hudson's Bay in Canada.  Thus, the river and regions that thaw first are in the southern-most end of the valley...and all of that thaw and flow ends up being blocked by the frozen regions farther north!  Like one great plugged bath tub in need of a master plumber..... :-)  See the link below for nice depiction of the ancient lake:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/lake-agassiz-book-bill-redekop-1.4388326
 
Jay Angler
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Thank you for that fascinating link about Lake, Agassiz. I can remember one spring when terrible flooding happened from too much rain in the Red River impacting huge areas of Manitoba, and the link clearly shows the connection in my mind.

Egypt was a successful ancient civilization for a very long time due to the combination of annual flooding and being smart enough to farm the low land but not expect it not to flood! They developed mathematics and similar skills to know how to divide things up when the water fell back. Now we don't think in the same ways about "ownership" and "right of use". They also didn't have to worry about buried gas tanks and toxic chemical storage up-river. The knowledge of the fertility of floodplains is very old. We need to learn better ways of using it with care for the downsides.
 
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Good and interesting topic.

If I lived on the river, with plenty of property, I would allow a 2 acre wide area between the river and  my first field of anything planted;  I would, myself, build a  large strong levee , with lots of good solid earth rammed  in and  filler of rocks and concrete, at least  20 feet high and wide along the river or stream, then, at the one acre point between the 2, another levee would go int hat was 30 feet high and wide, along with the same principles of building the first one, just larger and  stronger.

Than any gardening/crops would usually be protected from most of the flooding, and if there were gates built into the levees to  open to allow the flood waters to flow back in after  the flooding danger was over; then thats a more of a permaculture way of dealing with flooding.

I used to live  in Missouri, about 15 minutes upland from the capital city, Jefferson City, and of course, also up from the Missouri river.  there were bluffs that  pushed the area up and away form the river, so we were safe from floods.  The flood plain was given over to farming; usually, the levees kept the flooding from reaching the fields, however, we witnessed the damages from the 100 year floods and the 500 year and century floods within years of each other; floods are devastating to those who are unprepared for them to be what those floods were, and  several small towns that were in the flood plain, either became ghost towns afterwards, or were  completely taken over by the state and turned into parks, etc. One of the reasons the levees failed, and some still fail that were built by the government, is that  afterwards, there were no funds allotted to maintaining them, or the funds were diverted to something else. There was an overhaul of the way those funds were used and allotted after the  sever flooding around Jefferson city and the levees were better maintained after that; and a lot of short sighted  people realized that there was a REASON why those funds were allotted to maintaining the levees,


 
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We live next to a flood plain, our house and gardens are high and dry. We use the flood plains as extra paddock for our sheep. Falling trees are always an issue and downed trees floating around making it nearly impossible for fencing. We run electric strands, they are cheap enough if they get tangled in a tree. Downed trees are also a good resource. Some years there’s barely any water, some years too much.
 
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