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I just posted a blog about the problem of dust storms here in the Phoenix area.  I'm creating this forum as a companion to the blog.  I'm inviting anyone and everyone interested in exploring the creation of a solution to post your thoughts here.

This is no easy problem to tackle.  As a starting place, I would encourage you, if you are interested, to read this article about the issue.  This is a tall order.  My first impression is that it is similar to trying to stop the growth of the Sahara.  But, people created the problem.  Perhaps we can solve it, too.

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Hi Thaddeus,

 

A big problem excacerbated by abandoned farms and developers that scape the ground and then do not build.  You might check out Desert Harvesters:  http://www.desertharvesters.org/  for information on native plants.  Mesquite and prickly pear are good plants for soil reclamation and they provide food.

 

A group which is involved with getting rid of invasive species (the opposite problem) has some interesting stores to tell on their uphill battle and successes.

 

http://www.phoenixweedwackers.com/

 

You will need support from municipalities to secure permission to replant or repurpose fallow land.  One concept being explored for in-town lots is turning them into community gardens.

 

Good luck on information gathering and conceptualizing solutions.

Hi Catherine,


I may not have explained the situation adequately.  I did post a blog about this, but it never got approved and has since disappeared from the site.  Not sure why.

Within my blog I linked to two separate articles.  The first, from the UofA, explains the difficulty of reclaiming abandoned farmland.  The second was in Sunday's Arizona Daily Star.

These articles explain that the problem isn't from land within our communities.  It's more caused by denuded land between Tucson and Phoenix.  For that reason, community gardens are impractical.  No one is going to commute to, say, Eloy to grow vegetables.

The other problem, and one you hit on by referring me to the link to native species, is that most plants will never be suitable for this situation.  As the first article mentions, even native species have a hard time getting established because there are no existing nurse plants under whose shade young seedlings can establish themselves.  Also, there once was deep-soil moisture that maturing plants could grow into, but that is largely gone because of pumping wells for irrigation.

As I mentioned above, this is very similar to attempts to reclaim portions of the Sahara.

I have some ideas, but I want to contact some people at the UofA and ASU who might have a better idea on the scope and sources of the problem.  For instance, how much of our dust storms come from abandoned farmland versus actively farmed land?  And, how much would come our native deserts even if there were no agriculture.  That might indicate whether pursuing a permaculture solution is feasible.

My own interest is in doing something with the abandoned farmland.  This isn't to say that working with the farmers who are actively tilling their land couldn't help.

Hi Thaddeus,

 

I think I understood what you were saying.  I did a lot of research into the reclamation of land after reading a wonderful article in National Geo (September 2009) on Zai (or bit basin farming) in the sub-sahara, and the use of Cordons Perreux in other areas of Africa and Asia.  The situation there is as you describe in the areas between Phoenix and Tucson.  The use of cordons perreux to control rain run off and allow seeds to be captured is totally applicable to our desert areas.

 

You can find some references in my post on the "soil builders" group here on the VPA.

Katherine,

 

Thanks.  That's good information.  Especially on Cordons Perreux, which I haven't heard of before.  At least, not in that way.

When I was in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, we used rocks piled into erosion ditches to slow the water and to cause the silt to drop, but we hadn't used rows of rocks on flat ground.

My own thoughts are that if swales could be dug on the abandoned farmland, water could be concentrated enough to get trees like mesquite and palo verde to sprout in the depressions.  There's also a lot of tree clippings and other yard waste that is currently disposed of through municipal trash collection.  If that could be diverted and placed into the swales, instead of burying it in land fills, any trees that do sprout would have some cover from full sun while young.

Once the trees get established, other plants could be started in their shade.

Although I am primarily thinking of re-establishing a desert habitat, I am intrigued by the thought of other, desert-hardy plants being introduced that could have other uses.

Yes, creating the swales or rock barriers would function that way, naturally with or without more.  Maybe a volunteer group of people who could simply choose a section and begin creating the cordons perreux in clusters - say each one being a 3-4 curve, existing desert debris could be added to the upside.  Theoretically that is all that would be needed if done before the 2 seasonal rains (Nov-Jan and summer).

 

The idea of redirecting garden debris is a good one - may unfortunately be a problem not because the cities might not want to do it but because of what people do sometimes contribute to recycling that contaminates entire loads.  The garden debris should be viewed as a great idea and suggestion :-)

I suppose people could just decide to go out there and start doing it.  But, from what I saw in the two articles I linked to, there's some concern at the official levels of state government.  My thinking is that a properly drawn-up plan could attract funding.  This would allow for the hiring of machinery to grade the swales and to haul the refuse out to the site.

My first goal is to discuss the problem with some local scientists who probably have a good understanding of the problem, and could look at the plan, and possibly suggest improvements.

From there, it would be a matter of sharing the plan with people who have an interest in doing something.  Then, possibly attracting some funding and an official sanction carrying out the idea.

At this point, it's all a pipe dream, but I think there could be support to take a parcel of denuded land and put the plan in action, and measure improvements that come out of it.  That could form the basis for further action.

A lot of good possibilities and a lot of potential obstacles -- but good ideas continue :-)

So - the dust bowls on the plains of the early 1900's essentially didn't teach us anything?????

...

Industrial agriculture is needed to satisfy the growing demand for food...

Industrial agriculture doesn't have the resources nor do they care about a little blowing dust (not their problem).

The EPA sanctions being enacted on Jan 1st 2012 should send a clear message - but to whom?  The Industrial Agriculture ventures around Casa Grande/Eloy are not in the Phoenix Metro Air Conservation District.  And since the dust storms are mostly man-made (caused by human activity and not a freak of "natue") the EPA has decided that the dust storm activity is not an exception in the Air Quality Monitoring stations.  That fueled by the fact that three monitoring stations in the west valley had significant dust activity (the Industrial agriculture Groups in the west valley were plowing their fields) the EPA has rejected the MAG Air Quality plan for the valley.

..

So now we all have to divy up and help pay the fines and penalties (or do we?  Since it is the ounty and State Government, we are off the hook?  Right?  Not - Now we have to cough up additional tax revenues to pay the fines, added to the City, County and State Executive Pay raises for doing such a great job....).

...

Maybe we should just buy the land and start our own aquaponics growing operations instead of this industrial agriculture operation that requires that the ground be plowed kicking up all that dust.

...

Since aquaponics has a food to land use ratio up to five (x5) the ratio of traditional ariculture - maybe it is better?.

..

Dave

Phoenix, AZ

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