I left my blog on a slightly ominous note, mentioning that there were some good changes at the land, and some that were “not so much.”
The persistent rains in Surkhet this summer, resulting in horrible flooding, were a fifty year anomaly (though a similar flood happened 28 years ago). It is remarkable to drive around the same routes I used to take daily, seeing small canyons eroded through fields that used to be flat, rivers expanded by 4 times their old width, and roads completely washed away.
9 months ago, we built a gabion wall at our land, to protect ourselves from the rapid erosion along a ravine cutting through our jungle area. I have never seen water running through the dried ravine, and I’ve frequently wondered how much water actually flowed through during the rainy season. The evidence is now quite explicit: a tremendous amount. And that is a good segue into my next statement: thank god we built the gabion wall when we did, because much of our property would have been pulled into the flowing water during the night of the flood.
The flooding in the Surkhet was so bad this summer that it made BBC News headlines, and even resulted in Kelly being interviewed by the weather channel (https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=829797363709125). The sky bled rain for 2 straight days, and the saturated ground and steep hills simply pushed the water into our valley at a faster and faster rate. One local geologist told Maggie that if it had rained for 3 more hours that night, the entire valley would have been completely ravaged. As it happened, most of the damage here was along the rivers – homes destroyed, bridges collapsed, herds of cattle washed away to their watery grave.
When we built the gabion wall, determining our property line, and where to build, was difficult: over the past 30 years, the ravine had drifted and cut a cliff farther and farther into our property, so the land Maggie had purchased two years ago was of a substantially different shape than that of the government plat map. The 1-meter thick gabion wall, then, had to go along the edge of the ravine. At one spot, though, a tree on the other side brought the opposing bank to a narrow neck of just 2 meters wide, from 5 meters up above. Had we owned the tree, we could have cut it down and widened the ravine. The night of the flood, the water rushed past the roots of this tree, tearing away everything around it. But the tree remained and the water had no choice but to dig away, undercutting the base of our gabion wall, four feet underground. The top of the gabion wall slumped under its own weight. The soil behind followed accordingly, and now has the appearance of a small sinkhole. The result is a four foot dip, spread out over 70 feet, along the once-straight top of our wall, something that will certainly need to be repaired before next year’s rains.
Financially, it’s a relatively minor incident amounting to less than $6,000 (my estimate)- none of the wire mesh containers broke, and we already have all of the stone that we need. We’ll just need to hire a large crew of 40 people or so to remove the rocks and wire mesh, and relay everything properly again. And we’ll have to make sure to remove the tree that caused the mess in the first place. In actuality, we’re probably lucky the damage is so small – the rainfall was abnormal, and the gabion wall protected the rest of our property at a critical time.
Others around the area were not so lucky. I went around Surkhet with Sandip to see as much of the damage as I could and understand the magnitude of what had happened, and talk to the people who still have their homes.
And two months later, many of the people who lost everything (homes, land, cattle) are still living in tented communities, scattered within 15 km of Surkhet. Maggie has a good collection of photos of those from a month ago. Conditions have apparently not changed at all:
And, as an added bonus, here is a photo I took yesterday of a water buffalo (with friends) beating the heat just outside our house.