Capital Press | Water Capital Press Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:16:35 -0400 en Capital Press | Water Dairy farmers tackle water quality challenges Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:13:30 -0400 Steve Werblow Using an innovative online tool to schedule late winter and early spring manure applications, Terry and Troy Lenssen of Lenssen Dairy in Lynden, Wash., can give soil microbes a chance to convert slurry nutrients into plant-available forms before spring growth starts in earnest, while also protecting local waterways from runoff of nutrients and bacteria.

The Application Risk Management tool — known by the acronym ARM — developed by the Whatcom Conservation District uses a complex formula to analyze local weather forecasts, soil type, crop density, water table depth and other variables to determine whether the risks of runoff or leaching are low enough to permit a manure application.

ARM protects more than the creek and the commercial shellfish beds downstream — it protects the Lenssens’ bottom line.

“We got better yields on grass by at least 1.5 tons per acre on fields we were going out on earlier,” said Terry Lenssen.

To qualify to use ARM, the Lenssens worked with district staff to conduct a risk analysis, update their state-mandated nutrient management plan, and establish a monitoring program with sampling wells at one-, two- and three-foot depths. The monitoring wells indicated that using the tool helped the brothers reduce nitrate leaching, says Lenssen.

The Lenssens’ 260 acres of forage crops utilize the nutrients from three to four applications of manure per year. Heavy growth and mild winter weather generally yield five cuttings per year, cycling nutrients back to their 710 cows.

The brothers also practice “relay cropping.” As they cultivate 270 acres of corn ground in early summer, they blow on 30 to 50 pounds of grass seed per acre. After the corn is harvested, a lush cover crop is already in place to protect soil from erosion, capture nutrients in the soil, and filter sediment from stormwater. The brothers apply manure, harvest the grass for forage in the spring, then plant corn again.

“It’s usually winter Italian ryegrass or cereal rye,” said Lenssen. “They grow well over the winter, take manure in the spring, and they’re good feed.”

The Lenssens are not alone in their concern about water quality issues, said Steve Paulsen of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in Corvallis, Ore. Paulsen works on EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Survey — known as NARS — which assesses the quality of U.S. streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters.

Paulsen noted that the 2016 NARS report shows 45 percent of America’s rivers and streams contain excess nutrients; in the Pacific Northwest, 31 percent of the rivers and streams are high in phosphorous and just 12 percent have excess nitrogen. Meanwhile, approximately 23 percent of the nation’s rivers and streams — including 8 percent in the West — exceed thresholds for enteroccoci, bacteria that include E. coli.

“It’s exciting to see that farmers like the Lenssens are finding protection of water quality is a big plus for their operations,” Paulsen said. “As more and more farmers discover this and apply innovative strategies, we expect to see the pollution numbers found in the national surveys improve.”

For more information on cover crops, conservation systems and the Natural Aquatic Resources Survey (NARS), visit

Grower turns to tank technology for irrigation Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:15:41 -0400 Gail Oberst DALLAS, Ore. — Bogdan Caceu searched the world to solve an irrigation problem on his farm.

It makes sense that Caceu would look for solutions abroad. His father’s family had once owned large orchards in Transylvania, a region of Romania, that were confiscated by the communists in the 1940s, before Caceu was born.

“You hear that story as a kid, how we lost these beautiful orchards to this violent regime. Farming has been in the back of my mind for a long time,” Caceu said.

His father was an engineer, and Caceu was trained to be a lawyer. But with a dream to farm, in 2009 he purchased a plot of land southwest of Dallas, on the north fork of Ash Creek, which eventually flows into the Willamette River at Independence. Despite inexperience, he connected with experts in the area who have helped him turn 45 acres of scotch broom and blackberries into La Creole Orchards. The work in progress includes olives and truffle-inoculated oak trees, among other crops.

From the beginning, Caceu was faced with irrigation woes common to the Northwest. Even after drilling three wells, he was only able to draw 3 to 4 gallons per minute — far too little to keep thirsty young plants hydrated. Devoted to inexpensive and environmentally safe methods, he looked for tanks in which to save his well water during the rainy season, so he could apply it in the dry summer. Unfortunately, many storage tanks, geared for larger farms and industries, were unwieldy and expensive.

Caceu was undeterred. He searched the world’s water conservation companies and eventually put together a pilot project to build a simple, inexpensive water storage system that holds 35,000 gallons.

“It doesn’t get us through the entire season, but I wanted to see how inexpensive and easy to build it could be,” Caceu said.

The system includes Netherlands-based BuWaTec pre-fabricated tanks that can be built in place in a day. Concentric circles of corrugated steel are quickly bolted together and a liner is installed. A cover keeps water cool, algae-free, and reduces evaporation to a minimum — anywhere between 15 and 30 percent can be lost from an uncovered tank due to evaporation, so covers are important.

But the mesh-fabric cover the tank came with must be removed occasionally to avoid collapse due to snow and ice. Instead of that work-intensive option, Caceu settled on 7-inch-wide floating plastic hexagons that cover the surface, made by Denmark-based Hexa-Cover. Caceu estimated the entire system cost less than $16,000 and could be put together by a few people using simple tools.

To round out the water storage project, Caceu installed a solar-powered pumping system from the Danish company Grundfos. The solar panels run the pumps in the wells using less power than a light bulb and operate even on cloudy days.

“We get to start the first day of irrigation season with a full tank,” said Caceu.

Caceu’s other efforts to conserve water on his land include a drip and micro-spray system that delivers precise water and nutrients without any runoff. Also in the offing are projects related to the Conservation Reserve Program, a voluntary incentive program for farmers, managed by federal and state agencies.

A nod to his innovation, Caceu is the winner of Polk Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2015 Conservation Award. He serves as executive director of the Olive Growers of Oregon, the nonprofit that represents the pioneering olive growers in the state.

“It’s a wonderful pleasure to own this land,” he said. “And a responsibility.”

Beavers be dammed, district cares for Napa watershed Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:14:38 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER California’s Napa Valley is home to about 400 premium wineries but Richard Thomasser, operations manager of the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, is more concerned with beavers.

“Wildlife management — monitoring beaver activity and protecting against excess tree harvesting by beavers for dams — is an important part of our work,” Thomasser said.

Beavers are just one of the things the district deals with. He wouldn’t say they are a “big” problem because many actually create beneficial habitat in riparian areas.

Thomasser said he doesn’t want them to chew down all the riparian trees, so the district protects some of them to prevent that from happening.

The district started in 1951 and now covers 426 square miles of watershed in the valley.

“We are principally a flood control agency,” said Thomasser.

The district doesn’t own any water supplies. It provides flood and storm water services within Napa County, including five cities: Napa, American Canyon, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.

Most of the district’s work involves the Napa River and its tributaries, which is a 426-square-mile-watershed, he said.

The services the district provides to the vineyards relate principally to flood management and riparian area maintenance and restoration.

The work is done on an “as-needed” basis.

“We encourage protection of the river, streams and riparian areas and conduct projects such as invasive species removals, native vegetation planting, erosion control and debris removal,” Thomasser said.

The district also coordinates the cities and the county in complying with the state’s storm water management regulations, he said.

“We have varying issues and problems depending on areas along the river,” he said.

Besides beavers, these include homeless encampments in the city of Napa reach, invasive species and erosion in several areas.

Funding is one of the biggest challenges for the district. He said there are always more projects and activities to do than funds to do them.

The county recently launched a “Do It Yourself” groundwater monitoring program. The program allows Napa County residents to borrow a well water-level monitoring tool for free to measure their wells.

“The recent rains in Northern California have put a big dent in the drought, at least in that part of the state,” he said. “Napa County is actually in pretty good shape with its local water supplies. We get our domestic use water from the State Water Project, which is generally in good shape this year.”

Animal feeding operations get help keeping creeks clean Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:10:57 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Assistance programs for farmers and ranchers can help get livestock away from streambanks by developing alternative sources of stock water.

Eileen Rowan, of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Orofino field office, says one of the most successful efforts has been animal feeding operation projects in a 5-county area in north Idaho.

These involved cooperation between the 5 districts, Soil and Water Conservation, Department of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources Conservation Service, landowners and others.

“We started some projects in 2006. The last one was completed in 2014,” she said.

These projects were aimed at improving water quality by reducing sediment and bacteria and nitrate contamination. This was done by changing the facilities to keep runoff from feeding areas out of streams, she said.

Winter is usually when cattle are concentrated for feeding, and traditionally feed yards have been near streams so the cattle could drink.

“These projects involved fencing cattle away from the creeks,” Rowan said. “Then you have to provide another watering source. This required pipelines, troughs, spring developments, and in some cases we had to drill wells.”

Final cost-share figures approved by the AFO Committee came to slightly more than $1 million. Funds were from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission. The average cost-share for each of the 60 projects was roughly $17,604, or about $122 per animal in designated feeding areas.

The projects helped stockmen comply with water quality requirements for feed yard runoff.

Ray Stower’s ranch, 6 miles from Whitebird, Idaho, is an example.

“We live right along the creek, and this was my grandparents’ ranch. The old feedlot is a fenced-off area for winter feeding. The cattle went to the creek for water,” Stower said.“When we have 250 weaned calves in there and they are bawling, pacing the fence and all go to the creek, it creates a lot of impact, especially if it rains for several days.”

Trails going into the creek carry muddy water, he said.

“I decided to see if there would be any help for correcting this,” he said.

The first time he talked to Soil and Water Conservation there wasn’t any help available.

“The next year, Eileen called and said there was money available if I still wanted to do it,” said Stower. “They created a great plan and gave me a lot of help with it. This project accomplished what they wanted, and was really good for us, too.”

It became a win-win situation.

“I hated the idea of having more fence to maintain, and paying taxes on an acre I don’t get to use (next to the creek), but the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks,” Stower said.

The project included an alternative source of water for cattle.

“Up the draw there is a really good spring; I’ve never seen it go dry. So we put in a spring box and piped water gravity flow down to our feed yard with a 1.25-inch pipe,” he said.

He used a 12-foot diameter rubber tire for a water trough. It holds about 1,300 gallons and has room around it for many cattle to drink at once.

“A year ago, when we weaned in the fall and first used the new pen, I was worried that the spring wouldn’t keep up with 250 calves,” he said. “For about 10 days we opened up the gate to the creek, and fenced off a small water gap so calves could go to the creek if necessary.”

It was a spot where the banks were solid.

“This option was created in case I ever needed to have cattle water in the creek,” he said. “We put panels across it so they could only access the creek in that one spot.”

He is happy with the entire project.

“Eileen was really good to work with, and it turned out well. If anyone wants to look at it, to see what might be possible on their own place, they are welcome,” he said.

Excess electricity aids aquifer recharge Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:08:33 -0400 Dianna Troyer BURLEY, Idaho — Southwest Irrigation District near Burley, Idaho, is finishing a winterization project that will enable year-round recharge of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

A $600,000 grant from the Idaho Department of Water Resources is enabling the district in southeastern Idaho to double its pipeline system from the Snake River at the Milner Pool to injection wells south of the river, winterize pump stations and upgrade them to turn on and off as needed.

“We plan to have the project done by March 1,” says hydrologist Brian Higgs, District 140 watermaster and owner of Water Well Consultants.

The winterization project came about after the Bonneville Power Administration and United Electric Co-op, which provide electricity to the district, launched a successful pilot program in the spring of 2012.

BPA offered a reduced electrical rate to pump water to recharge the aquifer because it relieved the administration of an oversupply of electricity, especially at night, when power demand declines.

The administration must balance electrical generation with demand to keep its system from being overloaded.

At times, BPA faces an oversupply of electricity, especially in spring when high winds generate power at turbines and melting winter snowpack causes high river flows. Also during spring, electrical demand tends to decline before the air conditioning and irrigation seasons begin.

With the recent upgrades, the district’s system will have flexibility and be able to increase pumping during the hours of light electrical demand and decrease pumping during hours of heavier electrical usage on the grid.

The contract with BPA for the 1.8 megawatt project was renewed for four years.

“(The district) pumped an average of 1,900 acre-feet of recharge water annually on the old system,” says Higgs. “The district’s new pipeline will operate throughout the winter and pump more than 10,000 acre-feet to injection wells located more than 10 miles south of the river.”

The demonstration project provided numerous benefits and could be a model elsewhere, says Higgs.

“It helped us maintain our agreement with the Surface Water Coalition,” says Higgs. “Without it, we would have likely faced serious curtailments. In some locations, we’re in good shape, but other areas at a longer distance from the river are still suffering.”

The Idaho Department of Water Resources estimates the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer has been losing about 216,000 acre-feet annually from aquifer storage since the 1950s, resulting in declining ground water levels and spring flows. The department’s State Water Plan set a goal of having managed recharge averaging 250,000 acre-feet annually.

The SWID program, along with other major recharge projects at Lake Walcott and the Raft River Valley and to the north near Idaho Falls, will help the department eventually reach its goal.

“The average recharge for the past few years has been about 80,000 acre-feet,” says Higgs. “Eighty percent of that has occurred below American Falls Reservoir. However, the new Egin Bench recharge project to the north in Fremont County is operational. Recharge by the IWRB should top 150,000 for 2017.”

Higgs says SWID members look forward to continuing the recharge efforts near Burley.

“Next winter, we’ll be able to run without worrying about freeze-ups,” says Higgs.

Joint effort will bring riverbanks back to life Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:07:29 -0400 Brett Tallman CARLTON, Ore. — Until last fall, both banks of the North Yamhill River west of Carlton were a thicket of blackberries and reed canary grass. But thanks to an agreement between three area landowners and the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, a 2.3-mile-long riparian buffer will be planted there this spring.

“It took some convincing,” Josh Togstad, a Riparian Specialist with YSWCD, said. “The landowners are losing some production. The buffer will be at least 50 feet from the top of the riverbank and up to 225 feet, depending on the meander of the river.”

The project is funded by a $177,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. It’s part of a million-dollar set aside to help private landowners meet DEQ water-quality standards in what the ODA calls Strategic Implementation Areas.

All told, 33 acres belonging to the Sitton family, of Carlton, Kathy Magar, of Gaston, and a third landowner will be planted with 60,000 native plants and shrubs such as Oregon ash, red osier dogwood and big-leaf maple.

“We’ve done projects like this before,” Togstad said, “but the average is probably five acres. It’s the first project of this size in our area.”

Intact riparian buffers, Togstad said, are the last line of defense for clean water. They cool streams, stabilize banks, and filter runoff.

“A (100-foot buffer) filters something like 90 percent of phosphorus and 90 percent of nitrogen out of runoff,” Tog-stad said.

YSWCD will also plant perennial grasses on bare soil between shrubs and trees. Grasses not only prevent weeds from seeding in, but also filter sediment from surface runoff.

“After about five years, trees will be big enough that they won’t be killed by mice or smothered by weeds,” he said. “After 15 years, they’ll be tall enough to provide shade.”

Though shade is good for the river, it is often a source of concern for farmers.

“There was some worry it would throw shade on fields,” Togstad said, “so we’re tapering the buffer, with the tallest trees right along the stream.”

“The other concern was clogged tile lines,” he said. “Most of that land is tiled for drainage, so we’ll leave some open sections for tile lines, probably 10 to 15 feet wide.”

Once the buffer is planted this spring, YSWCD will maintain it for five years.

“After that,” Togstad said, “the established buffer won’t need much more than mowing and spot spraying.”

Though the maintenance agreement with YSWCD ends after five years, landowners also have a 10- to 15-year agreement with the FSA. Through their Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the FSA pays a one-time, $500-per-acre payment for enrolling, as well as an annual, per-acre payment for the duration of the contract.

“It’s pretty appealing,” landowner Lester Sitton said, “and it’s a good thing to be doing. I forget how many generations (of the Sitton family) have been farming here. Several, anyway. Thinking long term, we’d like to sustain several more. That’s what was done for us and that’s what we’d like to do here.”