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Ranchers Use New Method to Improve Water Quality for Salmon

The Issue

To reduce impacts on salmon habitat, water-quality regulations concerning sediment are being established for Northern California watersheds. These regulations require agricultural landowners to inventory, monitor and control sediment delivery to salmon-bearing streams, with the overall goal of reducing the impacts of fine sediment on salmon habitat. Exactly how to conduct such surveys across millions of acres of private and publicly managed rangeland was not entirely clear. Effectively identifying sites of water quality impact in an efficient manner is the critical first step for reducing the impacts. This is particularly true for rangeland managers, regularly facing overburdened schedules and limited budgets.

What Has ANR Done?

UCCE advisors and specialists developed an improved method to inventory and monitor sites of sediment delivery, in collaboration with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Farm Bureau Federation and private landowners. The new method has helped landowners and rangeland managers to reduce sediment delivery to streams and improve water quality. The monitoring method is available to the public online at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/InOrder/Shop/ItemDetails.asp?ItemNo=8014.

UCCE has trained more than 500 private and public rangeland managers in the new water-quality method through the Rangeland Watershed Program. These trained managers typically manage from 1,200 to 2,500 acres of rangeland within salmon-bearing watersheds.

During the training, participants learn how to use a two-page worksheet and simple field evaluation methods to determine the quantity of potential sediment that will be delivered from a site. The rangeland manager then evaluates multiple sites to compare and prioritize the order and approach for controlling the sediment delivery at each site.

In addition to training, UCCE surveyed sediment-delivery sites using the new method and site definition, as specified by the Total Maximum Daily Load process. As a result, 117 sediment delivery sites were characterized on 10 North Coast ranches. These results have been used widely: in presentations and conferences on water quality — such as the Ranch Water Quality Planning Program — and in ANR's California Agriculture magazine. These visible data highlight priorities for the control of sediment delivery sites that managers and regulators can both use in their decision making.

The Payoff

Water-quality tool offers an economical option for compliance

The UC sediment-delivery monitoring method complies with regulatory requirements -- including the federal Clean Water Act, state Porter-Cologne Act and sediment total maximum daily loads -- as a tool for identifying and prioritizing sites that impact water quality. This gives rangeland managers a cost-effective method to comply with these regulations and more importantly identify and prioritize the control of sediment delivery sites. The estimated cost to inventory sites for sedimentation with the new method is $5 per acre compared to $50 per acre using other common methods.

Thus far, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension and the Resource Conservation Districts of Yolo and Shasta Counties have adopted the new UC method, improving water quality at a lower cost.


Supporting Unit: Sonoma County

David J. Lewis, UCCE Watershed Management Advisor, 133 Aviation Blvd., Suite 109, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707) 565-2621 djllewis@ucdavis.edu