In the Trenches

What looks like mayhem in the future courtyard is a well planned system of trenches for water and power lines.

What looks like mayhem in the future courtyard is a well planned system of trenches for water and power lines.

Lately I have been focusing on the finishing work taking place inside Desert Rain. The beauty of the reclaimed wood on the ceilings and trim, the cabinet installation, the ponderosa memorial plaque, and the elegance of the texture and color in the American Clay plaster. While all these aesthetic details have been transforming inside – the future courtyards and landscape scenarios outside have been looking a little like warfare trenches.

While the trenches, rock piles, and mounds of dirt may not be beautiful to behold, they are an essential element of the water and power systems. The trenches are the conduit that will contain the components for rainwater harvesting, water and power lines, and the graywater and waste water lines that will lead to the composting toilet facility or to the bio-reactive wetland. It is a complicated layout of trenches and pipes engineered to move water, both incoming and outgoing, to the various structures and uses throughout the site. Desert Rain is sited atop a rock outcropping. Most of the digging for cisterns and trenches has involved hammering the rock in moveable sizes, piling, then loading into dump trucks to be hauled to a rock crushing facility. Some of that rock returns to Desert Rain in the form of gravel and fill.

Rock is hammered out of trenches and holes, piled, then hauled away for crushing.

Rock is hammered out of trenches and holes, piled, then hauled away for crushing.

Brent with McKernan Enterprises has been ‘manning the trenches’ for several weeks. The work he does may not be pleasing to the eye but there is definitely an ‘art’ to the form. He sits in his excavator on a tiny, triangle of undisturbed soil among the maze of trenches, holes, and pipes. Though he is working with a large and powerful tool, Brent said, ‘For the water to flow properly there is little room for error. The plans and elevations require precision’. A laser level is used for accurately setting the line and grade of the trenches. Still, moving mounds of soil and rock from a large machine, while staying within micro measurements of tolerance is a skill and art that has my admiration.

Brent with McKernan Enterprises works the bucket from his triangle of solid ground.

Brent with McKernan Enterprises works the bucket from his triangle of solid ground.

Plumber, Beau Parazoo laying the pipe for graywater and waste water.

Plumber, Beau Parazoo laying the pipe for graywater and waste water.

Brent, with his ever-ready smile, in the trenches.

Brent, with his ever-ready smile, in the trenches.

Though the landscape around Desert Rain currently looks like gigantic moles have been at work, there is precise planning and construction in process. The trench work is an essential step toward the infrastructure for the working systems. On a traditional building site, much of this excavation and installation of pipe would have taken place before the structures were built. The process of designing and acquiring a water and waste water system that meets the Living Building Challenge and permit requirements by the city of Bend and the DEQ has greatly affected the sequence of construction. As finish work progresses inside the home the earth moving of the outside space suggests the groundwork is still in process. One comment heard sums up the situation last week – ‘you need to be a billy-goat to get around the site today’. There appears to be a great degree of visual conflict – elegant beauty emerging inside – dirt, rock, holes, and upheaval outside. Perhaps the beauty outside is appreciation for the ‘art’ of planning, skill, and workmanship necessary to make Desert Rain a livable environment.

The trench from the bio-reactive wetland to the treated graywater collection tank.

The trench from the bio-reactive wetland to the treated graywater collection tank.

A rainbow brings beauty to the rough and rugged process of excavation and rock hauling.

A rainbow brings beauty to the rough and rugged process of excavation and rock hauling.

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