What is a swale?

Swales as used in permaculture are designed to slow and capture runoff by spreading it horizontally across the landscape (along an elevation contour line), facilitating runoff infiltration into the soil. This type of swale is created by digging a ditch on contour and piling the dirt on the downhill side of the ditch to create a berm. In arid climates, vegetation (existing or planted) along the swale can benefit from the concentration of runoff.

 A swale can be as small or large as is dictated by the slope of the landscape.


    • slows down water allowing it time to infiltrate into the soil, where it can be stored more effectively than above ground.
    • slowed water allows sediment and soil to drop out, preserving topsoil and clears water for downstream habitats (fish spawning grounds).
    • allows water to percolate into the root zone, feeding trees and plants. Trees and vegetation will in turn shade the ground, decreasing evaporation from the soil.
    • this sets up a self-mulching system which builds soil at a rate up to five times faster than naturally occurs.
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