Using Off –Site Watering Systems to Aid in Riparian Area Protection and Management
The purpose of this project was to promote awareness of environmental and production benefits achieved by utilizing off-riparian area watering sources for livestock. It also took advantage of and promoted the Agri-Environmental Technical Services (AETS) program that provides funding for projects such as this with hope that more producers may choose to implement best management practices, aiding in the environmental protection of our watersheds.
The project was set up on 160 acres of pasture which the Swift Current Creek flows through. About 250 head of cattle graze this area using the creek as a water source. A watering system was set up and fenced off to prevent any damage from cattle. Water quality tests were completed five times during the growing season of 2011, 2012 and 2013: once in June, twice in July and twice in August. Water samples were collected, placed in a cooler with ice packs and shipped directly to Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) for testing of e coli (Most Probable Number per 100 millilitres [MPN/100mL]) and total coliforms(MPN/100mL). When water was collected to send to SRC an extra bottle was collected, frozen and sent to the University of Regina for DNA testing. DNA was collected to determine if the fecal coliforms were bovine or ungulate. In addition to field data and notes, results pertaining to water level (m) and discharge (m3/s) were obtained from the Government of Canada hydrometric station (Station 05HD036) just upstream from the project site. Finally, a riparian health assessment was completed on the site at the beginning of the project, on September 15th, 2010, and again at the end of 2013, on November 12th, 2013.
An added component to the project was the offer from the University of Regina to collect and analyse DNA from the e coli samples to determine whether they were bovine or ungulate. The results did show that the two positive ruminant results were at a time when cattle were both present and not present. In July 2011 when the e coli was at the highest level it had ever been, the DNA results indicated a positive ruminant result and the cattle were not present. Thusly, when the e coli was at the second lowest level it had been the cattle were present and the DNA again showed that there was a positive for ruminant. We can expect the positive ruminant when the cattle are present but when they are not we could determine that the ecoli are from upstream practices.
A significant benefit to this project was the riparian health assessments accomplished in 2010 and again in 2013. The improved riparian health score in 2013 can be attributed to the off-site watering system, as it was clear that livestock impact, especially bare ground resulting from trailing, hoof sheer and pugging, was dramatically reduced. The improved woody regrowth and decreased browsing of preferred woody vegetation also lends itself to the conclusion that cattle are spending much less time in the riparian area now that an off-site watering system is available. From this information, we would submit that riparian health assessments are a more reliable method of assessing improvements in riparian health that are anticipated by the introduction of an off-site watering system as riparian health assessments are the only indicator not influenced by upstream practices.
SCCWS, ADOPT, AND 4-H CLUBS!
On October 19th, 2013, SCCWS held a day-long educational program at the site, which attracted 60 local participants involved in cattle production. SCCWS partnered with Ag Canada staff to deliver information on riparian health and functioning and range management. Our producer partner shared his experiences with the off-site watering system. Participants were then guided through an activity developed by SCCWS called “How Would You Graze It?” which asked them to develop a grazing management plan for a pasture containing a creek while following range management principles and taking riparian health into consideration. The event was considered a tremendous success by all involved.
The project is visible from the #37 highway and signage erected by the SCCWS attracted attention to the site as vehicles drove by.
Read the full report for the ADOPT - Fencing is not the only solution