Economic Multipliers (88)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Small rock dams could be an economic multiplier for future generations.


Would you spend 30+ years of your life building over 20,000 rock dams (one at a time) so the land that you leave behind when you pass away has water and vegetation and animals and birds that had mostly gone away by the time you acquired the property (due to development and overuse). Josiah and Valer Austin have.

But they didn’t do just that: They have shown people a path back.

In an area gone basically dry, they have reestablished streams, water pools, trees, grasslands, migration grounds and all sorts of things as they built their rock dams.

Trincheras (one definition) and gabions (bound together cages filled with rocks) are permeable rock dams:

    • Slow water down and silt settles out upstream.

    • Less eroded downstream land and slowed down water give water a greater chance to seep into surrounding soil.

    • Vegetation has a chance to establish itself in the silt.

    • Silt holds moisture: Slow down enough water so it has a chance to seep into the soil and ‘wet zones’ get a chance to develop … ponds, marshes, underground streams and possibly even above ground streams.

    • Shade and evapotranspiration from the vegetation keeps everything cooler and prevents the sun from drying the soil out.

You have to have some rainfall. You have to have some drop in elevation. And you have to be willing to use trial and error.

One definition of a trinchera is a trench: By building a small rock dam, you basically establish a trench behind it for silt to settle out. If you start at elevation and continue building a series of small dams downstream, the ultimate goal is to (re)establish a waterway which routinely drops silt and supports vegetation along its banks (a riparian zone).

Riparian zones shade the water way, provide habitats and protection for animals and birds and may just be one of the many things that will help deal with and buffer climate change.

In a few communities (but too few), these dams are already economic multipliers because land that had become basically barren and arid is now supporting more life.

Josiah and Valer Austin didn’t know when they started that they’d never stop. They weren’t trying to prevent climate change and could never have anticipated that their work would help them and all the animals on their property weather an extreme drought and huge wildfire. They only knew that they had originally bought a ranch that had at one time supported life … and now it does again.


A September 2012 Oprah magazine featuring the work of the Austins passed through my life (courtesy of a neighbor) with an article entitled: 'The Promised Land' by Kathy Dobie. I had never studied the reestablishment of waterways in arid areas and am stunned by the possibilities.

The benefits of riparian zones … the vegetative areas adjacent to waterways … are well established … for habitat … erosion control … pollution prevention … sustainable water supplies … vegetation and trees … soil development … etc.

The benefits of small rock dams in arid areas with some rainfall haven’t yet begun to be explored (but a bit of research indicates that many very smart ‘farmers’ used them hundreds of years ago … and archeologists are still trying to figure out all the various ways they were used).

The perhaps unfortunate thing about my reading the article is this: If a lot of people ultimately want to see the Austin’s property, the land (and even its inhabitants) could once again become ‘overused.’

Aldo Leopold (a historic naturalist) once wrote: ‘Man always kills the thing he loves.’ He was commenting on the difficulty of preserving things because if you’ve ever hiked in pristine or wilderness areas, you know that many, many others want the same chance.

Since ranches are ‘working’ pieces of property, I will hope that if a lot of people ultimately want to see what they’ve done, they’ll ask first and then come in workclothes with gloves, food, water and equipment and a desire to perhaps put in a bit of work.