Water Seminar Artlce from Oct 22

Thanks to some very dedicated people, the State of Washington was able to host some of the top experts in the nation on Riparian Water Quality on October 22, 2015 at Fairfield, WA. Over 100 people were in attendance to listen to Dr. Tip Hudson, Dr. John Buckhouse, and Dr. Ken Tate, of U.C., Davis. Two employees of the Department of Ecology were also present.
Dr. Buckhouse stated that in a perfect world water regulations would not be necessary, however, where there is potential for harm to be done, guidelines are necessary. CWA is a federal law. Education of the public on water protection helps to eradicate the stereotypes of ag persons doing harm to water. Water management must be site specific, tailored to the specific area. There are a number of approaches: 1) through legal channels; 2) public education; 3) do nothing, which is a poor choice.
Dr. Buckhouse went on to say that a riparian area can be repaired using livestock as a grazing tool and using the philosophy of capture, store, and safe release. Fencing off water should be a last resort. There are lots of riparian area problems associated with fencing. Dr. Buckhouse finished his presentation by stating that balancing all of the needs of an ecosystem is tougher than rocket science.
Dr. Tate started his presentation by stating that rangeland management interests are with water quality, livestock grazing, forage production, etc. He states that balance is the necessary component.
Dr. Tate has been in California for over 20 years and has had years of research to support his theories. He states that over 80% of California surface water is derived from or stored on rangelands, and livestock grazing is a concern due to water quality pollutants caused by livestock grazing. Potential grazing pollutants include erosion, increased temperature, nutrient and microbial pollution. 303d listed waterbodies in California number 7294, with 324 of those waterbodies in grazing areas. This was a concern for the citizens of California which led to much of the research that has been done. Dr. Tate discovered that many of the areas that people thought would be problems, were not in fact that problem areas at all. Where people thought cattle were causing erosion issues in CA, studies showed that 77% of the erosion and sediment contribution was actually from roads, such as ranch roads, with grazing only contributing 1% of the sediment found. Roads and historic management were the major sources of sediment pollution. Dr. Tate stated that remedies are to be found with unique thinking. He added that erosion is a natural process, but we need to protect against the acceleration of erosion.
Another concern in the State of California were the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Dr. Tate discovered that the actual levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are well below ecological concerns and are not really a concerning factor. Dr. Tate teamed with another professor to take samples of bedrock liming waterways and they discovered that this “background” nitrogen or nitrogen leaching from rocks was a bigger source of N than cattle grazing. Background nitrogen and phosphorus – bedrock nitrogen- are the biggest sources. There are nutrient risks when animals are concentrated around water performing such activities as winter feeding and calving, wet corrals, but these risks can be managed in such a way to negate negative impacts. Feeding cattle away from waterbodies, setting up corrals without water flowing through them are both good ways to manage nutrients getting into water.
Other than background, or bedrock N, the bigger sources of N are more urban, such as septic pollution, etc. We cannot prevent natural events from occurring, but we can stop our contribution.
Another concern are microbial pollutants, which caused the waterborne disease outbreaks of 1989-1996. These microbial pollutants are Protozan- giardia crytosporidian and Bacteria – E. Coli, Samonella and Campylobacgter jesori. Protozoan cannot be killed with chlorination. Bacteria is an indicator that fecal matter and pathogens are present in water. E. Coli is not an indicator of pathogens. E. Coli is produced in all areas of nature, i.e., human, wildlife such as birds, feral pigs, elk, as well as domestic animals, etc. Wildlife have higher levels of cryptosporidium than do cattle. Cattle have low to no infectivity for humans.
The take home from Dr. Tate’s presentation was to limit risky behaviors such as high stocking rates that are not stable, leading to more manure and loss of vegetation, etc. The other take home is that all of these areas of concern have other sources, and that includes the natural and background sources. E. Coli background in nature is not 0! No background is 0, including the research finding that N is not 0. Areas of concern need to be identified, and they need to be real problems.
Background and natural are naturally occurring levels without human interference. It can be difficult to establish, but we need to look to the beneficial use. BMP’s are effective. Microbial pollutants are the most important to deal with in the Western United States when considering human health. The question being, how much of any pollutant is acceptable, from a policy standpoint. Exclusion fencing is high in cost, vegetation management for weeds, for N uptake, etc. Exclusion fencing is not always the answer and should not be the number 1 “repair” that all government turns to when they think there is a problem. Management tools should be utilized first.
Riparian grazing with enhancements should be the goal. Rangelands are great at sequestering microbial pollutants, with 90% of E. Coli retained in the fecal pat or trapped within 1 foot. Management is the key in keeping pats out of creeks. Moderate stocking rates mimic nature, especially with planting and vegetation. The key is finding balance and looking at the ecosystem as a whole, not just the riparian corridor.