The Future of Water Control and Erosion Control is Returning to the Past

Natural stonework, like that we create at Ambrose Landscapes, that is designed and installed for residents in and around Asheville, is beautiful and natural, and it can be created in a variety of ways, to homeowners’ specifications. But that isn’t even the best part about stonework. How the stone landscaping structures – walls, patios, steps, and other structures – are designed and installed can provide effective water control and soil erosion control. And for that, we are looking back in time to the ancient stoneworkers who first used natural stone to capture water for more effective use and to prevent erosion.

What is Water Control and Soil Erosion Control?

Water control, or stormwater management, refers to the effort to capture, clean, and absorb precipitation. Basically, it involves the redirection of water to prevent flooding, property damage, contamination and soil erosion. Because there are so many surfaces on which rain falls where the water cannot be absorbed (roofs, asphalt, roadways, etc.), the stormwater is forced to find its own way to areas where it can be absorbed.

Soil erosion is another result of stormwater runoff. As stormwater attempts to drain, it often creates flowing channels in the soil that increase in force and speed. When this happens, soil can to be carried away to wherever the water collects or is eventually able to be absorbed into the soil.

Why Does Stormwater Management and Erosion Matter?

There are two major reasons that water control and soil erosion control are important. Firstly, because the climate is more volatile. We have basically the same amount of rain falling each year, but it’s faster. Property owners will need to have some sort of system to collect and distribute the stormwater evenly, otherwise it’ll run off. Secondly, with precipitation coming more violently, there has to be a better system to keep it from taking soil with it.

How Can Ancient Water Management Techniques Help Us Today?

Ancient cultures, like those from Latin America, had an expansive knowledge of their landscapes and were able to create successful water management systems that didn’t depend on modern technology like electricity. Studying these ancient systems provides us with a foundation for innovative blends of modern and past management practices to address our current water issues.

What we have now with modern water capture implementation techniques that are being installed might be considered great systems. However, these great systems and best management practices are very manufactured – more and more, that’s how we are getting to efficiency.

What we are doing at Ambrose Landscapes is getting out of the manufactured materials, eliminating transportation energy and pollution and turning back to the methods of the ancient civil engineers. We aim to use materials that are native to the area we’re working in. That is always going to include natural stone.

The most interesting thing about it is that archetypes for all this still exist in Mexico and the South Americas. They have been there for thousands of years, and we can still copy them because they were built so substantially out of stone, they weren’t built out of logs or other materials that would degrade over time, so we still have original designs to look at, learn from, and copy here in the U.S.

The Latin Americans have kept and preserved an ancient technology that can be our future due to the fact that they live in a much more arid place. They have maintained the water capture techniques of ancient peoples going back tens of thousands of years. In fact, in Mexico, with the dry climate, we know from the ancient records, they went through periods of ferocious droughts, sometimes lasting 100 years. And this is looking at archaeological records going way back to ancient times. Additionally, they had some extreme landscapes to deal with. Imagine having to use landscapes with 70-degree mountain slopes, essentially unwalkable inclines, to harvest stormwater. They were able to build terraces capturing water on those slopes. Turning steep mountains into pools of water is really quite a powerful thing to control in economy and produce from it.

It’s amazing that even having to deal with horrible droughts for long periods of time, and very challenging landscapes, the ancient people were able to manage water and survive. In North America, we don’t have to deal with such dry conditions, so we didn’t maintain any ancient methods for water capture and management. Fortunately, we can look to Mexico and South America as examples of how to create effective water management systems that are eco-friendly and sustainable for many years to come.


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