Hero Image

Ranch Course Graduates Identify and Fix Water Pollution Problems

The Issue

Federal and state water quality regulatory agencies seek documentation of pollution sources and verification of best management practices (BMPs)used by rangeland owners in watesheds that drain into impaired water bodies. Rangeland owners, however are resistant to formal reporting of pollution sources and management activities as they view this as increased regulation of their land and business.

Fearing regulation, California's range livestock industry implemented a voluntary program, supported by training, to identify nonpoint sources of pollution and to implement BMPs. The training was provided by UC Cooperative Extension's (UCCE's) Rangeland Water Quality Planning Short Course. Evaluation of the voluntary effort is essential to determine if water quality problems are being resolved.

What Has ANR Done?

UCCE livestock and natural resources advisors have worked with California’s range livestock industry to develop a program for voluntary compliance with the water quality regulations. They produced the California Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan and offered short courses to help land managers develop water-quality management plans for their own ranches. Representatives of 700 ranches attended these short courses statewide from 1995 to 2004.

In 2002-2003, UCCE evaluated this program by surveying short-course participants. The UCCE team -- consisting of advisors Stephanie Larson, John Harper, David Lewis, specialist Mel George and UC Davis graduate student Kelly Smith --created and conducted a mail survey of the 700-plus participants from 32 counties who participated in the 51 Rangeland Water Quality Planning Short Courses in California during the last decade. The survey was designed to gather information on the planning steps and practices implemented to improve water quality on farms and ranches.

The Payoff

Two-thirds of Ranchers Surveyed Took Steps to Improve Water Quality

Sixty-eight percent of the survey respondents implemented BMPs that protect or improve water quality. Ninety-one percent of the respondents who implemented practices started developing a ranch water quality plan during or immediately following the short course. Of the 120 respondents who did not implement BMPs, 81 percent started developing plans during the course, but only 41 percent completed their plans.

Sedimentation and riparian damage were the two most-cited sources of pollution identified. BMPs implemented by landowners addressed riparian managment (38 percent), grazing management practices (33 percent), erosion control (33 percent), stock water development (31 percent), and road management (23 percent). Respondents were willing to use personal funds up to $2,000 for implementing BMPs. For BMPs exceeding $2,000, 98 respondents received cost-share funding from USDA or other agencies. This voluntary program has successfully influenced the management of about 1.5 million acres of nonfederal rangeland in California by assessing non-point source pollution, creating water quality plans and implementing BMPs to restore and protect California's water quality.


John M. Harper, jmharper@ucdavis.edu, (707) 463-4495, UCCE livestock & natural resources advisor