Written by Doug Crouch

“The Upholder of the Cycles which supports the whole of Life, is water. In every drop of water dwells the Godhead, whom we all serve; there also dwells Life, the Soul of the First substance – Water – whose boundaries and banks are the capillaries that guide it and in which it circulates. More energy is encapsulated in every drop of good spring water than an average-sized PowerStation is presently able to produce.”

Viktor Schauberger

The one that connects it all:  Water.  A Prime directive of Permaculture: make sure the water that flows off your site is cleaner than when it came in.  Common Strategies include Catch it high, store it, spread it, sink it.  Patterns emerging.

What makes our project possible in Sintra, Portugal: Terra Alta, our source that is a horizontal well shaft that may date back to the Moors

Section view of swale with trees: water harvesting feature and the accompanying vegetation

Our role in perpetuating a full, healthy and balanced hydrological cycle is vastly important for our renewed success as ecological stewards on planet Earth.  Water is an alive being, ready for care and cradling.  The forest is its home. Our systems of design require us to enhance the quality of it and to restore aquifers by setting up conditions conducive for high rates of infiltration.  Common techniques include the use of earthworks, stacked plant material, animals, and the keyline plough to help create the edge for water to rest, spread itself and infiltrate.  To further increase its infiltration rate we support the system with bio-diverse plantings with a focus on forests and perennial vegetation as well as stimulating a diverse soil food web. Additionally, we use roofs and tanks to store water for drinking and irrigation and the pattern of the vortex, sound, and intention to help heal the water we drink while we wait for the springs to DSCN2624reappear after our efforts of reforestation and pasture restoration. Appropriate technology further supports that cleansing process for domestic use, for livestock, or our efforts are applied to creating habitat in all sorts of contexts.  We try and get rivers to meander, beavers to repopulate, and biodiversity in aquatic systems to flourish.  Wetlands are encouraged as well as fowl that help drive the system.  Dams can be created where appropriate for lager stores of water and use of appropriate technology allows us to move water around a site. Aquaculture systems allow for abundant yields and direct interaction with water to ensure its state is quality.

A depiction of a watershed and the important reminder of the source to sink principle

A depiction of a watershed and the important reminder of the source to sink principle- graphic from cserc.org

With water it’s a blend of meeting our needs directly and making sure the ecosystems remains intact.  What if every suburban development had water harvesting features directly designed and implemented in the construction phase.  Would we have over strained piped infrastructure and degraded stream and river water quality.  It surely would be reduced.  Part of the societal wide abuse with water is that we are disconnected from it, don’t know what a watershed is or which one we belong too, and how to interact with it beneficially.

keyline-plow-pattern from a project in 2009 Tennessee, USA

keyline-plow-pattern from a project in 2009 Tennessee, USA- a great broadacre solution to solving water problems

Fortunately in Permaculture design and management of its systems we have tools and technologies, strategies and techniques that can guide us.  First we must understand the difference between the full and half hydrological cycle.  Check out our page on this cycle to understand the direction and the grand importance of this subject.  Beyond that look for our other pages that will be published in the future on repair of this cycle through earthworks and other techniques. Water should have a special place in all our hearts and intention, we do need it after all to survive and thrive.

Written by Doug Crouch

Header Art by Anita Tirone



  1. How can we relate water design principles to drilling wells? Is it based on circumstances, the topography, the situation? If I use well water to spread to plants, crops, and then sink…..am I replenishing the system? What’s the right thing to do?

    • Using well water is acceptable but driving the system towards less usage of the well is important. Building rich soils that hold moisture longer is vital. Also is the getting more and more water to infiltrate using keyline, swales, rotational grazing and tree crops or buffers like windbreaks and riparian zone plantings. The important function of water for irrigation can be supported by many elements, maybe a dam, maybe some large tanks or cisterns, but use the well to advance the succession the systems including the soils. Just make sure you are replenishing the aquifer, eh. Good on ya for growing!!!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.