Permaculture Experiments From the Columbia River Drainage Basin in Eastern Washington State, USA

Permaculture:  "The Art of Living in Concert with the Earth's Natural Systems"

Columbia Basin Permaculture is located in the middle of the eastern Washington prairie surrounded by dryland wheat farms and cattle grazing. The homesite has had a presence since about 1900 and includes a number of outbuildings and mature shade/windbreak trees (elm, cottonwood, pine) plus a small orchard of cherry, apple, apricot, and almonds. The rest of the 21 acres is rocky grassland, partially fenced, bordered on two sides by grazeland and on two sides by wheatland in CRP.

CBP Farmstead:

Water:  The Most Important Resource

Water is at a premium in this neck-of-the-woods.  Average annual precipitation is between 9" and 12" inches and the groundwater aquifers are quite deep, reached through a thick layer of basalt rock.  The well here is more than 300 feet deep and the water is very alkaline (8+ pH) and high in nitrates (about 3x the acceptable level).  The nearby town of Ritzville is having community well problems with two of their three existing wells either dry or nearly so.  Their wells are about 1000' deep!

What this means is that establishing a rooftop rainwater collection system is an imperative.  Although Washington State is very possessive of the watershed "commons" and sources, the Department of Ecology recently issued clarification of their laws, to wit:  "On October 12, 2009, Ecology issued an Interpretive Policy Statement clarifying that a water right is not required for rooftop rainwater harvesting."  (  Quite an important bit of information here in the drylands.  

Here's a summary of what I've found out about the local aquifers:

    The Columbia Basin Project (Federal Bureau of Reclamation) includes the Grand Coulee Dam, Banks Lake, and an extensive canal system designed to utilize a fraction of the electricity generated by the dam to pump water out of Lake Roosevelt into Banks Lake, then on into the canal system which feeds irrigation water to the growing agricultural areas to the south on the east side of the Columbia River (including Moses Lake and Othello).  Portions of the Columbia Basin Project (CBP) have yet to be completed, including parts of the lower east canal and the entire upper east canal, due to a moratorium on increased water removal from the Columbia River.  During this moratorium, agricultural concerns were allowed to drill large, deep wells into the Odessa aquifers for monocrop irrigation with the assurance that they would be replaced with CBP water in the near future.  The Odessa aquifers are non-replenishing "ancient water" sources, and mining of these sources has significantly depleted their reserves.  Poorly constructed and illegal wells have "punched through" many shallower aquifers allowing them to drain into the deeper reserves while drying-up many homestead water sources.  The moratorium was recently lifted, but there are many "studies" and barriers to simply resuming construction on the final portions of the CBP, including the upper east canal which would serve areas near Odessa and Ritzville and halt the continuing installation of deep wells/pivot irrigation systems that are springing up all over the area.

Some more reading/reference material about the local Odessa aquifiers and how their fate is intertwined with the Columbia Basin Project: 

    Columbia Basin Development League - Columbia Basin Water Development:

    Columbia Institute for Water Policy - Odessa Aquifers: Crises in Sustainability:

    Columbia Institute for Water Policy - Odessa Aquifers Overview (with great graphics!):

    Odessa Subarea Special Study - Bureau of Reclamation:


On-site Energy Generation 

A basic, grid-tied photovoltaic system is installed which uses the local electric distribution system as a storage medium.  In other words, electricity is fed into the grid when in abundance (sunny days) and extracted from the grid when in shortfall (night/clouds).  The first year of operation yielded a slight excess of electricity generated ... a "net-zero" accomplishment!  Having the system grid-tied eliminates the need for a large array of batteries and their inherent cost and maintenance penalties.

There are also two much smaller, "experimental" PV arrays used for power in an outbuilding and battery charging in the abundance of vehicles here. 

There is also a small (400 watt) wind generator that has yet to be erected.  As an experiment, this will be directly connected to a water heater element in a 300 gallon tank and be used as a radiant heat system in the shop.   

Local Soils

Coming soon!