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Pushing Back the Desert with Water Retention Landscapes

by Leslie Gabriel March 18, 2014

One billion people lack access to sufficient clean water, and many more lack clean water to grow the food they need. Led by Sepp Holzer and Bernd Walter Müller, the folks at the Tamera, an ecovillage in Portugal (one of the most water stressed countries in the world) have shown that water desertification problems can be solved with solutions such as water retention landscaping, a concept based on permaculture ideas ...

Water retention landscaping, the very core of permaculture, has a few basics:

  • Spaces are created in the landscape to retain rainwater:
    • Build a dam out of natural material at the narrowest point of the valley by digging a ditch until you reach an impermeable layer.
    • Fill the ditch with fine material such as clay in the ditch, then pack it down to build a moisture barrier.
    • The water barrier cannot be sealed with concrete or plastic.
    • Line the outside of the dam with coarse material and compact it.
    • Allow for winding banks, shallow and deep zones, and build aligned to the prevailing wind direction.
  • This type of dam will retain much of the water on the land rather than letting it flow off of impermeable surfaces.
  • Once you restore the hydrological balance, the water will remain in the landscape, plants and animals return, and diversity flourishes.
  • The water is naturally enriched with oxygen and purified.

The water retention project at Tamera, which began in 2007, has transformed their landscape from one of threatened desertification to one that provides food, water, and energy for the community of 350 people. This type of decentralized landscaping holds huge potential for solving water scarcity and desertification problems around the world.

Deforestation, monoculture and industrial agriculture (especially unsustainable irrigation practices), and overgrazing have left many regions of the world facing desertification, whereby lands become progressively more arid, the soils lose productivity, and vegetation thins. Though deserts are a natural earthly phenomenon, desertification is far from natural.

Check out these statistics about desertification:

  • 1.2 billion people are at risk from desertification.
  • Deserts now cover close to one third of all land on the planet.
  • Close to 33% of US land is affected by desertification; 66% on the continent of Africa.

Water is an absolute necessity for the survival of all the creatures on our planet, including you an me. Given the current scarcity issues we should copy the Water Retention methods of the Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal and ...

  1. Create sustainable water environments in areas that are water stressed.
  2. Protect our already existing water sources.
  3. Learn about and work in tandem with Mother Nature's very own water sycle.

If you’re interested in decentralized water concepts, check out the 4th International Water Symposium taking place at the Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal from June 7 to June 10, 2014.

Leslie Gabriel
Leslie Gabriel


Leslie Gabriel, CEO & Founder - An H2O activist, enthusiast and ambassador for water. After beating lifelong chronic skin rashes and other ailments, by simply using pure water to detox his body and mind, Leslie became a passionate believer in the power of water. A majority of Leslie's time is spent on what he considers the most important movement of modern times, The Water Sustainability Movement. He is a public speaker about the pressing need of water sustainability and the need to transform our relationship to water to a state of love and respect. Leslie Gabriel is also proud father of, who he calls, his "Not So Little People" - Kyla Elianna Gabriel (21) and Jeremiah Noah Gabriel (17). Leslie Gabriel is also an distance runner, hiker, skier, kayaker, camper, traveler and dancer.

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