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Ranchers Voluntarily Protect Rangeland Water Quality

The Issue

Livestock grazing and associated ranch practices may pollute surface water if not properly managed, a great concern to downstream water users and state regulatory agencies. Increased sediment from grazing induced soil erosion; increased stream temperature from removal of streamside vegetation and nutrient loading have the potential to degrade aquatic habitat that is important to several endangered species. Improper management of livestock may result in pathogen loading that can impact domestic water sources.

In 1989, the range livestock industry identified water quality as a high priority issue and in 1990 began discussions with the State Water Resources Control Board, UC Cooperative Extension, USDA NRCS and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts about a voluntary program through which ranchers address clean water issues on their own propery. These discussions led to the development of the California Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan (CRWQMP).

What Has ANR Done?

Approved by California’s State Water Resources Control Board in 1995, CRWQMP provides for voluntary development and implementation of ranch water quality plans. Under the leadership of UC Cooperative Extension rangeland specialists, UCCE and USDA NRCS developed a short course curriculum that facilitates development of ranch water quality plans.

Ranchers learn about nonpoint source pollution associated with ranching through the Ranch Water Quality Planning Short Course. They become familiar with basin plans and assessments, including the impaired waterbody list and the TMDL priority list. Plans developed during the short course include: property information, ranch goals, ranch facilities and resources, ranch maps, ranch operations and land use, ranch management practices, basin water quality status, nonpoint source self-assessment, planned management practices and monitoring procedures.

The Payoff

Ranchers implement water quality protection practices

As a result of the Ranch Water Quality Planning Short Course, more than 350 ranchers voluntarily developed water quality plans since 1997 for more than one million acres of privately owned rangeland. Based on a 2002 survey, 67 percent of these ranchers implemented practices to protect water quality. The most prevalent practices implemented included improved management of dirt roads, installation of riparian fencing and improved livestock distribution. The short course has been a catalyst for the development of several landowner watershed management groups and is being used as a model to address farm water quality on California’s central coast. We continue to conduct this short course on request.


Supporting Unit: Rangeland Watershed Program

Melvin George, Extension Range Specialist, Department of Agronomy and Range Science, UC Davis, One Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616, Phone: (530) 752-1720; Fax: (530) 752-4361; Email: mrgeorge@ucdavis.edu, Web: http://agronomy.ucdavis.edu/calrng/range1.htm