The first rainfall of the season comes in grandiose fashion. Just after a dust storm blows past, a thunderstorm erupts across the desert. This is how it usually happens (dust storm then rain), and this signals the official start of the cooler season. At the Greening the Desert site, the event feels increasingly serious. Tents are collapsed, others blown over. Trees in the food forest go down, a tank blows off the rooftop, and a shade house topples. Everything is very wet, with water pouring into the site, feeding the swales. Even water from the street is being diverted into water collection. A desert is a flood waiting to happen, and though we can’t predict every outcome, the landscape can be designed to make the most of it.
Unfortunately, this event goes really wrong in a wadi just ten kilometers from the site. Twenty-one people die in a flood. Such tragedies s can be thwarted by sound permaculture design. In the Dead Sea Valley, a wadi with barrage dam walls and stout gabions with large level silt fields moderates the amount of water moving through. More importantly than stopping the water, it’s the material, like large rocks, that cause serious damage, but good design can create silt fields that’ll absorb water like a large sponge and prevent the flooding that sweeps up this solid debris. This kind infrastructure has safety advantages as well as benefit in hydrating the ecosystems. Though the desert is an actively eroding landscape, we can design to take advantage.