Dual-purpose ponds help fire fighters, ranchers


For the Capital Press

Ponds and other forms of water storage serve the dual purpose of watering livestock and providing water to fight fires.

ROSEBURG, Ore. — A partnership of government agencies and landowners has produced 24 water impoundments in Douglas County in the last 10 years.

The original purpose for building the ponds was to create another water source for fire fighting, but the multi-use concept applies to several of the impoundments. Seven of them supply water to livestock, and in some cases that keeps the animals out of a nearby creek that benefits migrating or spawning fish. In addition, the impoundments are a water source for birds and wildlife, and they slow erosion caused by runoff.

“High fire incidents and low water supplies are the key criteria used in determining where to locate sites,” said Walt Barton, district manager for the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District.

The ponds are built where there are no hazards, allowing helicopters to fly in and refill their hanging water buckets. A few of the ponds also have rocked access roads, allowing tankers to drive in for a refill.

The conservation district has secured the money for the pond projects, discussed options with landowners and coordinated the work to create the impoundments. Barton said the money for the first projects came from Douglas County safety net funds, but since then money has also been secured from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. When available, equipment and labor have been provided by the landowner and the Douglas Forest Protective Association, a fire fighting agency.

“It’s a huge investment that individual landowners put out,” said Pat Skrip, a DFPA forester in southern Douglas County. “Every summer we capitalize on those water impoundments (during fire season). When a landowner or rancher makes that investment, all their neighbors benefit too because that water is used to fight fire elsewhere.”

Barton estimated that 10 to 12 ponds provided water last summer to fight the Douglas and Whiskey complex fires.

Skrip said DFPA’s goal is to have a water source every six miles that is accessible to helicopters. Skrip said that overall about 40 ponds are used by livestock on southern Douglas County ranches, but are also available to fight fire.

“Any time you can put in a pond to assist in a situation like a fire is a good thing,” said Cody Sandberg, a Roseburg area sheep and cattle rancher who helped turn a muddy spring into a water trough and a pond in 2007. The rancher used his bulldozer and helped with the project.

Sandberg noted the ponds are also available if a controlled field burn, a land management tool that is still used on the hillside pastures of Douglas County, jumps the line.

“We took a muddy spring where the animals had watered and turned it into a clean, fresh water source in a trough,” he said of the impoundment a few miles east of Roseburg.

The spring water was directed into an underground pipe that went downhill to a trough. The overflow from the trough flows by underground pipe another 20 yards to a pond that was created by building a 100-foot wide dam at the bottom of a draw.

Len Woody, another Roseburg area landowner, had the same type of project developed on his property. He provided heavy equipment and his labor to put an underground pipe from a spring to a trough with the overflow going by an underground pipe to a pond.

“It’s nice to have a water source in the area, whether it’s mine or someone else’s down the road,” he said. “Having stored water, whether for cattle or anything else, is always handy. It’s kind of like insurance. You pay a little up front and then hope you don’t have to use it (for fire fighting) later.”

Barton said each pond is constructed to be at least 8 feet deep with a capacity of at least 1 million gallons of water. He said a few are smaller than that, but were built anyway because they’re in key locations.

“Most are a million gallons or bigger,” he said. “They’re either filled by runoff or we develop a spring and divert the water to a pond.”

He has two more pond projects in the design phase and is seeking money to fund their construction later this year.

“If I can continue to find money, and that’s getting more difficult to do, we’ll continue to build these ponds,” Barton said.


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