Building the New South Lake - from July to October 2011

A Vision Becomes Reality

October 1st 2011

Yesterday, three months after work first began on Tamera's new large water retention space, the intensive building and landscaping work accompanied by the constant clatter and roar of the big machines came to an end, and what began as a vision held deep within the hearts of a few individuals could be witnessed as a fully manifested reality of earth and stone. While some detailed finishing work remains to be completed, and the winter rains that will start to fill the retention space are still to come, the building team can now happily and proudly say to themselves “We did it!” 

A palpable sense of joy was in the air after the past two weeks of landscape design. The dam has been shaped with a hill and a wide gathering space on top, several new terraces have been built on the hillside above the dam to accommodate the almost endless volumes of rich topsoil dug from the valley below, and two ponds have been created below the dam to provide drainage for the “Shepherd’s Garden” and a stable habitat for water plants and other sensitive aquatic life.

According to Bernd Müller, who has carried Tamera's water landscape vision and played a leading role in its manifestation since the building of 'Lake 1' in 2007, the new reality now visible in Tamera's southern valley is not only a material reality of earth and stone: “I like to say that the construction work is also a process of 'interweaving light', of creating bodies for the elementary beings that want to make their homes here and cooperate with us in the work of healing the land,” he says. 

On Tuesday evening this week, an inauguration ceremony with short speeches, drumming and song was held on the new gathering space upon the hill of the dam (pictured), in which the elementary beings and helping forces were welcomed, the almost untouched ground-water that has gathered in the deep zone was blessed, and the vision of a world where water, food and energy are freely available to all humankind was joyfully affirmed.

With the breakthrough for Tamera's water landscape that has occurred during these last three months of construction work, a real-life working model of water abundance for all in the world's so-called 'drylands' is now one huge step closer to realisation.

The New Earth Dam Reaches the "Zero" Level!

During the last few weeks, the work to create Tamera's new water retention space has consisted mainly of piling higher and higher several thousand cubic metres of clay and stone every day, carefully directing each lorry-load onto the right part of the rising earth-dam, and levelling again and again new tracks for the lorries to drive back and forth between the excavation area and the dam.

On Wednesday this week, a major phase in the construction work was completed when the 150-metre-long dam reached the "zero" level -- the planned high-water level of the retention space. Despite the challenges of this intensive day under the hot sun, and after more than two months continuous work on the construction site, Tamera's team of engineers and helpers were in good humour and a celebratory mood.

Some days of unexpected rain at the turn of the month threatened to put a stop to the building work, with the lorries struggling up the steep slippery tracks, but the rain held back just enough for the work to go on. Another surprise was the relatively small amount of clay found during the excavation of the deep zone and surrounding area near the dam, so a larger area than planned had to be excavated in order to obtain enough clay for the dam core. At these additionally excavated areas further up the valley, the topsoil will be put back, and the removal of the impermeable clay layer and opening of the hard stone below may well improve the cultivation conditions there.

At the weekend, guests from Tamera's Portuguese Open Day visited the construction site, including members of the Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (League for the Protection of Nature), and there was also a visit by Satish Kumar, editor of the UK-based Resurgence Magazine, along with a delegation from Schumacher College. Interest in Tamera's water retention landscape as a model for sustainable living and nature healing is growing!

Now that the "raw" form of the dam is almost complete, work has already started to shape the terraces that will run alongside the road as it crosses the outer slope of the dam, and about a dozen fruit and olive trees have been transplanted onto the terrace banks (pictured).

The remaining work on the dam -- such as building it up one metre higher, forming a hill in the middle to blend it into the surrounding landscape, and covering it all with topsoil -- and other tasks such as building the overflow channel and repositioning the road leading up to the dam by the existing South Lake, will continue until the beginning of October. Then the team can take a very well-deserved break!

The Dam Rises Higher Step by Step

August 25th 2011

This week, the earth dam has been built up further and the deep zone excavation has started, reaching a few metres below the original level of the valley bottom. The work is progressing at a fast rate, with four tipper lorries now driving in a circuit to bring material up onto the dam from the excavation below, delivering each different type of material to the appropriate part of the dam: mixed clay and stone to the slope that will border the water-filled retention space, stone-free clay to the dam core, rock and stone to the slope facing down the valley.

Meanwhile, participants of the Global Campus education group have been shaping irrigation channels on the new terraces, (photo) and the ground in a small valley between the terraces that will form a watercourse for winter rains has been prepared for planting waterside trees .

Report about the Water Symposium in Tamera

The New Dam Starts to Take Shape

August 19th 2011

During the last two weeks, the work of building the earth dam for the new water retention space has been in full swing, and an incredible amount of earth has already been moved. Visible in the photo, the large ditch that has been dug for the dam core is already being filled in with layer upon layer of compacted clay. Such incredibly large amounts of rich, dark topsoil were found here in the valley bottom – up to 1000 cubic metres were being moved per day – that further terraces have been made on the east side of the hill to accommodate and make use of this precious material. Thomas Lüdert, lead engineer for the water landscape, described this process of bringing the soil back onto the hillsides from where it originally came as “erosion in reverse”! The terraces built last month on the other side of the valley, meanwhile, have had several more trees transplanted onto their banks, and the new section of road that passes between them has been refined and opened to traffic.

Rainfall in August and Learning from Mistakes

August 6th 2011 - Update of Jefff Anderson´s Construction Site Weblog

During the last two weeks, coinciding with Tamera's annual 10-day Summer University, the main work on the new water retention space has been on hold. The excavator and lorry drivers had the possibility to take their summer breaks, and the core team of specialists from Tamera could take valuable time to reflect upon the work done so far, to develop a structure for the educational programme that will run alongside the building work, and to delve into the human issues that naturally arise under the excitement and stresses of running a construction site of this scale.

As one of the building leaders said, “We are spiritual beings now having a very material experience.” The success of such a project depends not only on technical and logistical expertise, but requires a profound awareness of universal human issues and a willingness to deal with them in a manner that addresses the spiritual core of the human. Tamera is developing a model that seeks to fully integrate these issues into all aspects of its practical work.

Last Monday (August 1st), while the larger circle of the building team and practical students met to share information about the next work phase and to 'check-in' on a human level, Tamera was blessed by heavy rains quite unusual for the season. It was both an encouraging sign for the success of the water landscape, and a reminder of the mistake made in forgetting Sepp Holzer's practice of always having his pockets full of seeds ready to sow whenever and wherever he works the earth. This time the opportunity was missed to have seeds strewn over the open earth on the new terraces, ready for any such surprise rainfall to swell them and work them into the soil so that a green cover could start growing straight away. All life is learning, and we learn best from our mistakes!

In the photo above, the building team are looking over the valley where the construction of the earth dam is about to start. The visible triangle of bare ground, which was cleared of vegetation during the previous work phase, is where the dam will meet the hillside. On Monday (August 8th) the two excavators and the lorry that worked last month will start work again, and later in the week a second lorry and a caterpillar will start helping to move the huge quantities of earth (about 50,000 tonnes!) needed to build the dam.

Building a New Water Retention Space: Update from the third week of building work

July 23rd 2011, Weblog by Jeff Anderson

"Water Retention Landscapes are the healing impulse urgently required by the Earth and all her creatures. And they can and must arise in every place where people regain the courage, strength and also of course the knowledge needed to create them."  – Bernd Müller, project leader for Tamera's water landscape.

Construction work on Tamera's new large water retention space has now been going on for almost three weeks. Each working day starts with a prayer requesting protection for all the workers and all the beings of nature on the site. The morning prayer also informs these beings of the work to be done that day and reminds them that the humans in the construction team are there to assist them if necessary. 

Since the beginning of last week, a second excavator and a tipper lorry have been working on the last parts of the new road and removing the vegetation and topsoil from the dam site. New terraces have been built in the small valley on the hillside above the Shepherd Garden, a short distance down the main valley from where the new earth dam will be built. The terraces, which slope gently in a zig-zag from one level to the next, have been covered with a layer of rich topsoil, and several fruit and olive trees have already been transplanted onto their banks. A gap in the terracing has been left through the bottom of this small valley, to serve as a wildlife corridor where a natural watercourse can form and waterside trees can be planted. Looking over this part of the building site, one can easily start to get an impression of the 'dream of the land' that is now quickly taking shape.

Soon, the building site will also be a venue for Tamera's Global Campus education programme. Over the coming weeks, participants who have recently arrived in Tamera from as far afield as South America, Africa, the Middle East and India, will receive both theoretical and practical education in the creation of Water Retention Landscapes. In this way the knowledge required to implement this urgent healing impulse for the Earth can start to spread worldwide. 

Note: In last week's report the correct figure for the donation recently secured should have been  100,000 € (a happily larger sum of money than the incorrectly stated 100,000 Swiss Francs!)  Nevertheless, Tamera still seeks further funding to complete the Water Retention Landscape model.

Study Text by Bernd Müller: The Secret of Water

An Exciting New Phase of Development in Tamera's Water Landscape

"Building water retention spaces is the most important action one can take to heal sick trees, regenerate damaged landscapes and halt the advance of the desert" – Sepp Holzer, permaculture expert and 'Rebel Farmer'


The next major step in the development of Tamera's water landscape is now underway with the beginning of construction work for the largest water retention space in Tamera, that when full will cover an area twice the size of 'Lake 1' and will hold three to four times the volume of water. A team of specialists in construction and ecology and an excavator are already at work in Tamera's southern valley, where the dam of the retention space will soon be built. 


In a speech to the Tamera community on June 23rd, Bernd Müller, director of Tamera's Ecology Department and project leader for the water landscape, gave the good news that a donation of 100,000 Swiss Francs (86,000 €) had been secured towards the financing of this new retention space, and that the work would commence within the next weeks. A detailed construction plan and a core team of specialists from Tamera had been prepared in advance so that the work could start without delay as soon as the necessary funds became available.  


In the early dawn light of July 1st, about fifty Tamera co-workers, students and guests gathered on the hillside above the site of the soon-to-be-built dam. Here, looking over the southern valley while the sun rose behind, Bernd Müller introduced them to the finer details of the vision for this part of Tamera's evolving water landscape and explained the next steps in the building work. This community gathering also served to inform the land and all its beings of the work that is about to start. A song, 'Noyana – we are on our way to paradise', was performed by the whole group assembled on the hillside. In this way the right and important information – that this work is a necessary and joyful step towards the healing of nature – was given to all the plants and animals who make their homes on this piece of our planet Earth. 


Members of Tamera's Ecology Team also held a ritual to inform the beings of nature who live there and to request their cooperation, and on July 4th a large excavator with a skilled driver arrived and the first major step in the work commenced: the building of a new road on the western slope of the valley to replace the public road currently running through the valley bottom.


The new road is now almost finished, and the remaining building work will continue until around mid-October when the rainy season should begin.  The major work still to be done is to build wide terraces alongside the new road, to cover these with topsoil removed from the areas to be excavated nearby, and to construct the dam with the material excavated from the deep-water zone. The work is planned in such a way that only the land in the areas that are expected to fill with water during this coming winter will now be prepared. Such a large retention space, with a relatively small surrounding catchment area, is likely to take several years to fill, so the work to prepare the land may also be spread over several years.


The evolving water landsape of Tamera


The creation of this new large water retention space will bring Tamera much closer to the full realisation of the water landscape as first envisioned in 2007 by Austrian permaculture expert and 'Rebel Farmer' Sepp Holzer. During his first visit to Tamera in March 2007, he drafted a plan for how a dry land like that in Tamera could be transformed into a lush and fertile landscape with an abundance of water. Despite the long summer droughts, there is actually no shortage of rain over the whole year. The only 'problem' is that it falls almost entirely in winter, where it can barely infiltrate the earth and quickly flows away, causing erosion and flooding downstream. The vision Holzer presented to Tamera for a water landscape consisted of at least ten rain-water retention spaces of various sizes, surrounded by permaculture terraces and a healthy mixed woodland – an edible landscape providing for its human inhabitants and also for the wild creatures of nature.


This vision was initially met with some skepticism from the Tamera community. But when the huge volume of water that falls each year in the catchment area surrounding Tamera was actually calculated, the shift from thoughts of scarcity to pictures of abundance easily followed, and Tamera enthusiastically agreed to work with Holzer to create such an exemplary water landscape model for Portugal and the whole world. Only a few months later, in August 2007, the building of 'Lake 1' commenced, and since then the 'Valley Garden Lake', the 'South Lake', and two smaller retention spaces have followed. 


A Water Retention Landscape is more than just a landscape with a lot of water


With its current three large water retention spaces filled to capacity after last winter's exceptionally high rainfall, Tamera already seems blessed by an abundance of water. However, a great deal of rainwater still escapes because the existing retention spaces are not sufficient to hold back all of the winter rain. The construction of the large retention space now underway will signify the breakthrough from a landscape with a lot of water to a Water Retention Landscape (a more precise term for the model Tamera is developing) that can absorb the entire rainfall of an average winter, where all water flowing away comes from springs.


Furthermore, this new large retention space, situated on the highest part of Tamera's land, will enable the water-level of all the other retention spaces to be maintained, and will provide water for irrigation (as long as this is still necessary) across the whole of Tamera's land without requiring additional energy for pumping. A number of additional springs will arise and one can anticipate the wonderful picture of continuously flowing water throughout the year, from the southernmost part of Tamera all the way to the northern entrance by the horse stables.


The creation of Water Retention Landscapes is urgently required worldwide


Along with many other regions of the world, Southern Europe is threatened by massive and rapidly advancing desertification. Annual forest fires, summer droughts and a steady loss of biodiversity and soil fertility are unmistakable signs of the encroaching desert. On the other hand, tremendously destructive floods occur year after year. Desertification and flooding are two major symptoms of the wrong management of water, in the form of industrialised agriculture and forestry, overgrazing, and the straightening and canalisation of rivers. Everywhere, solutions for better water management are desperately needed. Water Retention Landscapes provide such a solution, and the model can be applied in all regions of the world. 


Note: Tamera still seeks investors and donors for the completion of its Water Retention Landscape.


Further reading: The Secret of Water as a Basis for the New Earth – Healing the Water Cycle through the Creation of Water Retention Landscapes


Text by Jeff Anderson, July 16th 2011

Order the book "Terra Nova" here