Keyline Design is a broad scale land use and management system developed by Australian P.A. Yeomans and sons in the 1950s.  In fact it was likely the first formal ecological land use and design system in the western world.  Each site's unique topography and geography inform proper Keyline site layout and planning.  Keyline places particular emphasis on landscape enhancement through soil building practices and the development of on-site water security.  Working in a highly degraded, fragile, drought stricken Australia during the ‘Green Revolution’ it becomes quickly evident why there was considerable need for such a regenerative land use system.  The most notable features in a keyline-designed site are often the interconnected network of ponds (known in Australia as 'earthen' dams) that cascade across the landscape, capturing and storing rainwater for use in gravity-feed irrigation.  


View a 1955 video short on Keyline in Australia with PA Yeomans


Keyline Design is informed by the topographical character of the landscape.  Careful observation and planning lead to designs that optimize the water resources available on a property and strategically respond to the host of other existing site characteristics that affect farm and homestead development.  By capturing and storing rainfall in earthen ponds and/or water harvesting swales (ditches dug along contour), it becomes possible for a landowner to develop their own on-site water security throughout the course of the year, enabling them to weather their way through droughts, thereby continuing production.  Water is life - without a reliable source, any and all agricultural production is limited.  Even in the driest of climes, Keyline designs can provide property owners with the peace of mind of a resilient, reliable, productive landscape.


The term 'keyline' refers to a specific point in the landscape - the highest point where one can cost-effectively hold water. Thus, when appropriate, a pond is located at this keypoint.  Then, if possible (and necessary) additional water storages can be added at lower points in the landscape.  These ponds are connected by gradually sloping diversion drains which serve as overflow channels from one to the next, effectively capturing and storing all rainwater for use when needed.  In dryland environments especially, where sun is abundant but rainfall is limited and infrequent, appropriately sited water storage can provide long-term security and stability to agricultural and residential developments.

Keyline Design

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