induced meandering


It’s one of my favorite phrases, related to rainwater harvesting – induced meandering.

The premise is, whenever you can get rainwater runoff to slow down, to take a more circuitous route, to wind its way down a hill rather than rush full speed toward the gutter, storm drain, or gully below you increase the likelihood for ‘induced meandering’ – and the likelihood that this runoff will actually be a resource rather than a nuisance. 

If runoff can slow down it has the chance of sinking in as it makes its way down a slope. As it sinks in, it provides irrigation to the plants on its way. This not only waters those particular plants, but, over time and given enough precipitation, has the possibility to refill the aquifers in the ground below to contribute to the overall health of the larger ecosystem. 

Take, for example, the geraniums on the path in the image with this post. Granted, geraniums are fairly drought tolerant and hardy plants. That said, these geraniums never get watered, unless it is by the rain. Since we typically have a dry period between about April and November, that means that these geraniums last with basically no irrigation for about 7 months. That’s crazy, right? Well, yes – except for the fact that when it does rain, they are fed by the stream that flows, winds, meanders past them. This runoff from the road can be fairly strong at times. But as it encounters the path it is slowed down by both the organic matter and loose granite along the path.

At a certain point the stream encounters a sort of ‘speed bump’ and makes its way into the garden, continuing to wind its way past an avocado tree, a plum, on toward an almond and from that down to an apple. Typically this is as far as it gets, but were the rain and the flow to be slightly stronger it would continue on its way to the orange, down past the artichoke, and on toward the guava. 

The premise behind induced meandering is not just to slow the water down, to give it time to sink in, but also to ensure that, when possible, the rainwater never leaves but is all used, absorbed, and given the chance to sink in, rather than run off. 

So, how does one help to induce induced meandering? Easy. 

  • Observation – it is important to first watch how the water flows in a given area, or over your property. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Where does it run ‘fast’ and where does it slow down? Observe the path and pattern of the water. 
  • Action – once you have observed the patterns of the water it is time to experiment. How might the water be slowed in the fast areas? Typically this is done by either spreading it out, or by adding curves to its path. Perhaps it is a dirt road that gets rutted from the rain – add a rock or other ‘block’ near the top of the rut and water will spread out rather than make a deeper rut. Perhaps it is a downhill dirt path that, with each rain, gets cut deeper – add ‘speed bumps’ in the form of rocks or dirt to help slow the water down, to encourage it to spread out as it travels. 

Implemented thoughtfully, this induced meandering can provide irrigation to soil, plants and trees long after the rains have passed. The benefits are both immediate and long term. The more induced meandering, the more the overall health of the entire area, not just a particular plant or a particular tree. 

Induced meandering is not just limited to the garden, of course. 

Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the 40 days (cuaresma in Spanish) leading up to Easter. Lent is often thought about as a time to ‘give up’ something – chocolate or sugar or alcohol, candy or sweets. But Lent is not just about sacrificing for sacrifices’ sake. The emptying of Lent is to create space for that which is to come, namely Easter. Life. Resurrection. 

More than ‘giving up,’ Lent allows time for examination – reflection and preparation. 

Induced meandering, if you will. 

A time when we find ways to slow down, to meander rather than to rush, to allow that which is life to sink in a bit, to find ways to go deeper and not always stay on the surface. A time to observe, to pay attention, and then to act – and in so doing providing the space to move from ‘rush’ to ‘replenish.’ 

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