Last night as the wind was howling and the rain was coming down in torrents, I could sleep in peace because I knew I wasn’t going to wake up to find that our back yard was now our front yard because of the force of the water moving downhill.
That’s because since Petaluma had its last heavy rain on New Year’s Eve in 2005, we had concrete drains installed that look more like an Olympic luge track than your typical suburban gutter.
Let me explain a little about the topography of our house. It backs up to a sloping, open field. Being the naïve homeowners that we were when we bought the house, we saw this as an asset to the house. “Isn’t that great, we won’t have any neighbors behind us.”
We did in fact have neighbors in the field behind us, just not of the human variety. The field is probably populated with about a zillion gophers and moles who happily tunnel back and forth across the property line into our yard to partake of the “all you can eat buffet” that we call landscaping.
And unlike the adobe soil that is found in so much of Petaluma, our soil looks like it was trucked in from Dillon Beach. It is so sandy that we wondered if our house was indeed build on shifting sand. Not in a spiritual sense, but literally.
So in 2005 when it started raining and kept on raining, all the tunnels that the gophers had made turned into pipelines for the rushing water. And when the tunnels curved up to the surface, the water shot up several feet into the air with the same amount of pressure that you would see from a fountain. A little more organization amongst the gophers, add some music and lights and we could have had our own poor man’s Bellagio water show.
As all this water traveled downhill, it took a lot of the soil with it, under the gate and out into the front yard so the grass in the front ended up covered in about two inches of silt.
Not wanting to repeat that experience the following year, we called a landscaping company for their best thoughts on how to control the run-off. Their solution was about $40,000 worth of French drains even though we told them French drains didn’t work in this kind of soil. We had experimented with them and knew that they immediately clogged up with the fine, sandy soil.
Then we got smart and called our neighbor who is a water engineer. He confirmed what Steve knew all along. We needed concrete swales that ran parallel to the house and then made a “T” into swales on each side of the house. These would then drain into underground pipes taking the water out to the street. A friend recommended someone who had done a similar job for them and for $5,000 we had our drains that could handle the perfect storm. Not an especially graceful solution but darn effective.
It feels good to have conquered one of our challenges as homeowners especially as we get ready to put our house on the market. Next up: the termites that we just saw evidence of. Their lip-smacking and crunching are keeping Steve awake at night.