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Drylands Management, Organic Gardening, Sunseed News, Volunteer Stories

The first rains of the season have been and gone… and they have left their mark on the land here. Our beautiful poza looks different from last week, because the water swept through the valley, knocking caña aside and carrying with it the dust and soil from the surrounding hills. The hills themselves look so much cleaner, the plants have definable and separate colours, rather than all being coated in the fine dust, early mornings are sweet with soft dew, and even the air feels fresher.

Before and After the Storm

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We knew the rains were coming days before they arrived, though the amount of precipitation was often in question: We were told to expect 40mm to fall on Thursday, three hours later that had gone up to 100mm and 200mm on Friday but over the next day the prediction dropped to 40mm over 4 days, only to shoot back up to 100mm in 3 hours. The weather warnings for the area were Violet. So, understandably, we doubted the truth of the forecast once or twice. How could so much rain be coming when we were enjoying such glorious sunshine? Still, precautions were taken and we spent a morning preparing Sunseed for the likelihood of a heavy rain. Gabriel, our organic gardens coordinator led a team in sand bag collecting. They lugged the heavy bags from the gardens to the main street of the village where they built banks to protect the road from the floods of water. Tanks were positioned to collect the rain, so that we could make the most of the precious water, and where necessary buckets were placed to catch the leaks in the roofs.

The next day we watched as the rain clouds gathered at the edges of the valley, laden with their blessing of much needed water they drew nearer and nearer. Most people had found inside jobs to do during the day to avoid getting wet, and we sat around the house, trying to use as little electricity as possible. The clouds meant that the solar system wasn’t working at full capacity and once it dropped down to 90% we could not charge any devices, despite this the atmosphere around the main house was one of excitement.

Waiting for the storm

And then the rains came. They hammered, heavy and hard into the dry earth, the first few drops sending little flurries of dust into the air, until everything was soaked. It was only minutes before the main street of the village had become a river, flowing over our bare feet where we stood soaking in the water, just like the plants.

Soaking up the rain

In the evening the storm picked up. Lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating towering cloud formations and thunder rolled through our valley. We stood huddled in the doorway of one of the buildings, watching the water run down the main street. We laughted as we tried to avoid the rain, splashing through the streams and puddles and even pausing to dance under the torrent. That night, warm and dry once more, the rain beat a comforting rhythm against the roofs and, after a summer of heat, blankets were pulled from cupboards and onto beds.

On Friday in the pouring rain Gabriel, Tom, and our neighbour Dave Dene fixed the floodgates of the acequia with yeso, which sets underwater. So now all that we needed to do was clear the new mud from the acequia. Luckily, Saturday was the communal acequia maintenance day and we were joined by our neighbours to clear the acequia. We were up to our knees in the water channels scooping mud into buckets with our hands. Squeezing between caña and under hanging brambles we cleared the areas of the acequia that were worst affected by the rain and the silt that it had carried with it.

Cleaning the acequia

Once finished we trouped, muddy and tired, back to Sunseed’s main building. But, because the acequia wasn’t running yet, the village ram pump wasn’t working, and we had very limited water for washing. Using water collected from the rains we washed the mud from hands and faces and then settled in to enjoy our Saturday.

Later on, when the river was once again crossable, our drylands team went to find out what the rains had done to all of the hard work that has been poured into the area. We all wanted to know whether the walls had held or if the force of the water had knocked them away. To our delight, when the team came back, they had photos of the walls not only standing strong and proud, but having worked fantastically to slow and even stop the water. Areas of the drylands were all puddles and mud from the soil and water which had been stopped before it could flow away. It was cause for celebration and the main house was filled with our smiles of joy and relief.

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The heavy rains have gone now, but the season is turning from summer gently into autumn. Since the storm we have had small showers of rain, the ground is still damp enough that we haven’t had to water the gardens for the last few days, giving us an unexpected luxury of time. But it’s not only the weather that is different, the landscape has changed. The poza is now far more open and elongated, as most of the caña were swept away or flattened, it gives us a view further down the river that is more open. Sweetcorn that we have been nurturing and growing through summer was knocked down by the power of the storm. The ram pump is not yet up and running, but our wonderful maintenance team are working hard to get it operating. By now the turtles have returned to Rio Aguas and the silt is settling out of the river. The trees, plants and people are all refreshed and rejuvenated by the downpour.

The land love the rain
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Appropriate Technology

Los Molinos de los Rio Aguas got a sharp reminder never to take water for granted when the hydraulic ram pump that provides the whole village with water stopped functioning recently. With no water from the taps or showers, we had to collect it from the acequia (water line) – a tiring and time-consuming job every morning! With the pump needing replacement and improvement on an old design, technical team assistant Joe and his friend Ryan stepped up to do the job; a stressful experience with no test run requiring a lot of determination and teamwork.

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The first self-acting ram pump was invented in 1796 by Joseph Montgolfier, co-inventor of the hot air balloon – the designs now change depending on location and equipment, but the idea remains the same. Ram pumps use the kinetic energy created from the water source when the impulse valve (pressure head) pushes it to an outlet of higher elevation. Unless you use a petrol pump, the ram pump is a zero-pollutant technological piece, perfectly appropriate for the ecovillage which Sunseed is a part of.

According to Joe, ram pumps can be used anywhere as long as there is some height for water to drop from to create the correct flow and a consistent and sufficient source of water such as a river or brook. Therefore, the diverse terrain and undulating region of Andalusia makes the ram pump the perfect source of water for Los Molinos and Sunseed.

The new ram pump was successfully completed within one full working week, much cheaper and more efficient than getting one made and delivered. Ram pumps can cost up to €3,000, while Joe and Ryan estimate that all the equipment is only around €550. They also both agree that the fact that no external energy required is key, avoiding added equipment and the use of any manual labor after construction except for the annual maintenance check.

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Water is delivered at all times now to all taps and tanks twice as efficiently as the previous pump and with a perfect water cycle – any extra water falls back to the river, so none is wasted. Across a large area that is arid and dry, an even distribution of water is available to the whole village and this should be the case for the next 40-60 years which is 2 or 3 times as long as the last ram pump lasted, approximately 20 years.

Joe and Ryan made the ideal ram pump for all the villagers in Los Molinos and we thank them for it. Out of respect for nature and one another, Los Molinos continues to thrive towards our vision of low-impact, sustainable living.

by volunteer Lara Worthington

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Appropriate Technology
water pumpOne of the major projects and work of the Appropriate Technology department this summer has been a much needed renovation of the famous Sunseed ram pump! The ram pump is one of the best example of appropriate technology in Sunseed. It provides water to the village of Los Molinos from the ancient irrigation canals, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year without any electricity or wires. The only energy it requires is the water pressure created by gravity. The ram pump has been in the village since the mid 1980’s, but it has not had a proper overhaul for years. This summer there were some problems with breakdowns and irregular performance. Our AT team rose to the challenge! Becky and Sara doing maintenanceEngineering interns Becky and Sarah at the pump DSC00039The pump needing some TLC Second leak bad repair and overgrown drive pipeOne of the leaks in the very over-grown drive pipe DSC00017A rusted up air vessel with the bad kind of holes… DSC000j08A cracked pulse valve plate. Turns out we don’t need one if the pulse valve rubber is thick enough…   Upgraded non-return valve2Above in picture is the old no-return valve on the feed tube provifing the village with water. The valve itself is the gray bit in the middle. and on each side of it is a small adaptor piece that connects it to the tube connectors. Turns out the inner diameter of the adaptor piece was only 10mm in diameter, and thus were a big restriction on the flow, as the inner diameter of the pipe is 16mm. Below in the picture is the beefed-up replacement. The water flow to the villagers almost dubbeled! Coning tube end for better flowEmil, our AT Coordinator, coning the end of the feed pipe to reduce water turbulence in the connection. DSC00141We made some changes as we fabricated a new air vessel, in particular we upgraded the feed pipe connection. Here you see the new sturdy 25mm brass fitting, replacing a flimsy 20mm plastic thing.DSC00142The AT team are now preparing to put in a new upgraded drive pipe. We recognized that stone-lining the trench for the drive pipe will stop most vegetation as well as erosion and to keep the trench clear for easier maintenance. It’s a big job, but we decided it was worth it, if only for the presentable estetics it adds. Gillian stone-lining day 4c Many volunteers had a chance to help in this project, and learn some useful stone walling techinques. Here are our volunteers Gillian (above), Natalie and Leonardo (below) working on the stone lining and supporting walls. Leonardo and Nathalie stone-lining day 2aLeonardo and Nathalie stone-lining day 2d A big thank you to everyone involved in the ram pump renovation of 2014!
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Appropriate Technology
Hola, today we made more space around our main water storage, to fit two new IBC tanks, buffering water from the village ram pump. DSC_0346Improving the supporting edge. -The blocks of concrete are inclined slightly in the direction of the tanks. DSC_0348Here’s the old tank, which was installed without any protection from the sun. It has now whitered and cracked from exposure to the elements. Two new tans are getting prepared with a protecting layer of black  acrylic paint, and a protecting screen made of cane, to shade out the sun since it would otherwise heat up our black tanks in the desert sun.

¡Hola! Hoy hemos hecho más espacio para dos depósitos para el agua que recogemos de la bomba de ariete.

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Los bloques de hormigón están ligeramente inclinados en la dirección de los tanques.

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¡Ya hemos retirado el depósito blanco y estamos esperando los dos negros!

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