Storm water management and biochar


Rain, rain, go away! I hate to say this too loudly especially since so many areas are suffering from drought, but we are under water siege in the Finger Lakes these days. One of the worst climate change impacts for Upstate NY relates to precipitation. We are predicted to have increasingly erratic rain events and when we do get them they will be stronger than in the past. This year’s precipitation would seem to be the new normal and most are woefully unprepared!

Flooding, runoff, erosion have all been rampant for the past 2 years. Farmers cannot get in the fields for planting or cutting hay. Lakes polluted with runoff are spilling over. Debris is falling and floating in places which cause danger and damage. It’s a mess! But enough about the problem, what about the biochar solution you may be asking right about now. Not to worry, there are many potential solutions which could enlist the help of biochar (made from some of this downed debris where possible!).

First off, while recently talking to my Dad about his particular rain pain which is all about barn flooding, I suggested a simple runoff diversion mechanism to provide a more favorable path for water and the sludge it brings with it (i.e. anywhere but through the barn!). He was keen to try something but sand bags are heavy and diversion tubes will need to be moved out of the way when tractors need to come and go out of the barn. But who needs heavy sand when we’ve got lightweight biochar? And so ‘Le Charsette’ (chausette in French means ‘sock’) was born. Sewn from simple weed barrier fabric and filled with biochar, this sock can be placed in front of the barn (or home, or basement, or storm drain, etc.) when flooding is in the forecast. [HINT – or should I say lesson learned: if you are making one, a relatively uniform biochar particle size is recommended. If you’ve charred sticks and haven’t crushed them, they will poke at the fabric.] The perfect Father’s Day gift if your Dad happens to be a farmer or live in a deluge-prone zone!

Jumping off of the simple Charsette idea to divert rainwater, these could be used on farms that border rivers, streams & lakes to reduce erosion and nutrient leaching. Such erosion control tubes or wattles already exist of course, but filling them with biochar may be a more sustainable solution than those filled with straw or other materials. They are likely to last longer and smell less. It is also likely that the char will eventually become charged with these nutrients which would otherwise end up in water bodies.  The charged biochar could then be used as a fertilizer and the socks could be refilled with fresh biochar – just like changing your batteries in the fire alarm!

Varying the size of these, they could be used to reduce erosion and fortify terraced farmland. The added benefit is that if the bags start to disintegrate it isn’t really a big deal. The biochar, unlike sand, is likely to improve the land upon which it sets. And landlocked locales don’t exactly have easy access to sand, so biochar may make these a much more viable alternative.

This whole sandbag replacement idea helped me stumble upon sandbag house construction. Constructing homes using biochar filled bags sprayed over with biochar plaster, might just be something I’ll have to try (or at least blog about) in the future!


Storm water management and biochar — 1 Comment

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