When the city of Toledo, Ohio, made news in 2014 for their water advisory—400,000 residents unable to use water due to a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie—the idea that farmers’ environmental stewardship affects the whole population was driven home. It’s not just farms, of course, that caused the lake’s crisis, but they did play a big role.
Thriving streams on the farm mean healthy, thriving waterways elsewhere in the community. Follow these tips on how to improve stream health on your property from Nikki Dictson, extension program specialist with the Texas Water Resources Institute/Institute of Renewable Resources and president of the Texas Riparian Association.
Create Riparian Buffers
“Riparian areas are the [areas of] green, specialized vegetation that extend from both sides of a stream or river that serves as important habitat for many plants and animals,” Dictson says. “Properly functioning riparian areas are excellent buffer zones that provide many benefits and functions, including dissipating stream energy, stabilizing banks, trapping sediment, building and enlarging floodplains, storing floodwater, recharging groundwater and sustaining base flows.”
These areas help to filter potentially harmful runoff from manure and soil amendments as water moves from the land to the waterways.
“Proper grazing management includes stocking rate, timing, duration and frequency,” Dictson says. She suggests using rotational grazing, where pastures are allowed to rest and recover.
Ideally, livestock won’t have access to waterways, but if they do, “implement measures to protect the creek, including [having an] alternate water source; stabilizing the access point to reduce compaction and erosion of banks; and placing feed, minerals and shade away from the creek to reduce time spent along the creek,” she says.
Conservation tillage, contour farming and terraces, cover crops, and vegetative water-movement areas help to build and maintain soils in place on your farm, rather than letting them erode into the waterways.
Read The Labels
Overapplication, overspray and drift can happen when you don’t follow amendment-application instructions on the label—organic included!
Evaluate your farm’s stream health with the free USDA National Resource Conservation Service’s Stream Visual Assessment Protocol guide. “Local NRCS staff should be able to help landowners complete the assessment technique, as they will also be able to add their local knowledge and conservation practices that would benefit,” Dictson explains.
Remove Invasive Species
Invasive species are found in the water and on land as animals and plants. Dictson points out that in Texas alone, the state’s department of agriculture lists 32 noxious weeds and states that feral hogs cause an estimated $52 million in damage to farms each year.
Use Your Resources
Your local cooperative extension agent, soil and water conservation district, and NRCS office can help design a stream-management protocol for your property and connect you with financial and educational resources. Also, look for ways to educate yourself. For example, in Texas, the Stream and Riparian Ecosystem Program is a free, one-day training program for landowners. (Learn more at www.texasriparian.org.)
“Management of the land, streams and riparian zones affects not only individual landowners, but also livestock, wildlife, aquatic life and everyone downstream,” Dictson says. “As the water
resource moves down the stream system, all of the natural and man-induced disturbances in the drainage area/watershed are cumulative.”
Don’t wait until a water emergency such as Toledo’s presents itself in your community. Put forth your best effort to promote healthy waterways on your property this year.
This article ran in the July/August 2015 issue of Hobby Farms.