Capital Press | Water Capital Press Mon, 26 Jan 2015 06:19:06 -0500 en Capital Press | Water Dual-purpose ponds help fire fighters, ranchers Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:12:50 -0500 CRAIG REED 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.

Projects prevent runoff at Christmas tree farm Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:12:13 -0500 MITCH LIES SILVERTON, Ore. — On rainy days in the past, it wasn’t unusual for topsoil to wash down a 50-acre Christmas tree farm at Drakes Crossing Nursery and settle in a landing area, bogging down harvest and peeling away the lifeblood of the farm.

Two years ago, however, that changed after nursery manager Jan Hupp heard from a neighbor about a landowner assistance program operated by Marion Soil and Water Conservation District.

“My neighbor said, ‘You ought to talk to these guys,’” Hupp said.

Flash forward to today, and a healthy stand of ryegrass holds soil in place along a humpback ridge that cuts the field in half, and tall fescue strips planted every 25 rows allow crews to drive equipment into the field for harvest, pruning and other activities.

“It’s made a world of difference,” Hupp said. “On some of those rainier, nastier days (during the 2013 Christmas tree harvest), my guys would’ve had to park in the landing area and walk all the way to the center of the field. They can drive out there now.”

Another plus, Hupp said, is he no longer is forced to periodically bring a backhoe onto his landing area, scoop out the dirt that settles on it, and cover it up with another load of gravel.

The project at Drakes Crossing Nursery is one of about 20 or 30 projects the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District is involved in each year, according to Scott Eden, a district conservationist.

The program requires landowners to put up 50 percent of the cost, either through in-kind commitments or through a cash match.

Paperwork in the grant is kept simple, Eden said, and the district typically helps landowners complete the forms.

“I’m a farmer,” Hupp said. “I don’t like paperwork. But it wasn’t that bad.”

Eden said Hupp’s project easily qualified for a grant, given that it met several criteria the district uses to gauge a project’s qualifications, including erosion reduction and surface water protection.

“We assume anytime erosion is getting into a ditch, that it is going to be transported to a surface water stream,” Eden said.

The district caps individual grant awards at $5,000, Eden said, and has an annual budget of $100,000 for its landowner assistance program.

In addition to establishing grass along the humpback ridge of the 50-acre field and planting access rows, the Drakes Crossing project involved building and installing what Hupp calls “mud-flap diverters.”

The diverters consist of 24-inch wide strips of conveyor belt material that Hupp drilled into 2-by-4s and installed in the ground at angles every 25 or 30 yards. The diverters catch soil as it runs down the field and diverts it into holes dug out with a backhoe.

The mud flaps, as Hupp calls them, protrude about six inches out of the ground and are thick enough to divert soil and water into the holes, yet flexible enough to be driven over.

Asked if the project was worth the expense, Hupp said, absolutely.

“It used to be that we had erosion washing out 50 to 75 feet onto our gravel landings,” Hupp said. “And, unless it was a dry day, you couldn’t drive out there because it was so slippery.

“Now we can go out there any time we want to,” Hupp said. “Besides, I’ve got a lot of money wrapped up into that topsoil. It’s my future, and it’s my kids’ future.”

Silverton workshop set

The Marion Soil and Water Conservation District will host a workshop Feb. 11 at the Silverton Grange Hall, 201 N.E. Division St., Silverton, Ore.

The workshop includes presentations on the Silver Creek focus area project and the role of riparian plants in riparian functions, and an update on salmon recovery in the Molalla-Pudding River basins.

In addition, district conservationist Scott Eden will provide a presentation on services available to landowners through the Marion SWCD.

The workshop begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at 3 p.m.

For more information, contact Marion SWCD at 503-391-9927.

State asks districts to target water quality efforts Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:11:45 -0500 MITCH LIES The Oregon Department of Agriculture has asked Oregon’s 45 soil and water conservation districts to zero in on specific areas, and document changes, representing a change of direction in the state’s 20-year-old agricultural water quality program.

“The districts have done great work,” said John Byers, manager of Oregon’s agricultural water quality program. “They do riparian restoration work and other work to improve water quality. What we’ve asked them to do now is focus some of that work in a specific area in each of their districts, so we can measure progress.”

The new directive is part of the state’s effort to address critics of its agricultural water quality program.

Jerry Nicolescu, executive director of the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, said the districts back the department’s efforts.

“We know that a lot of good things have been done to protect water quality in the past,” Nicolescu said. “But have we done a good job of measuring that? No. And, frankly, it is beginning to bite us.”

Nicolescu said it is hard to convince people outside of agriculture that the industry has done a good job of protecting water quality.

“They still see brown water running and see algae blooming, and it is hard to convince them that all the work farmers and the districts have done has made a difference,” Nicolescu said.

“But, from everything I’ve seen, I’m convinced we’ve made a tremendous difference,” Nicolescu said. “It would be a lot worse if we hadn’t done what we’ve done.”

Nicolescu said critics point to the fact that the state has issued only three penalties for agricultural water quality infractions.

“They look at it like, ‘Hey, you’re not doing your job because you only found three of these,’” Nicolescu said. “On the other hand, maybe we could have had 3,000 of these incidents, but the districts and other agencies and individuals have been doing their job, and we’ve kept all but three from ending up in a regulatory situation.

“Can we do better? Yes,” he said. “Are we working to make it better? Yes. Is it going to change overnight? No. It takes time. Everything in nature takes time.

“But I think we’re going to get there,” he said. “I can’t tell you how soon, but I know we’re going to keep working on it. We’ll get it done.”

The ODA also has initiated two pilot projects, one in Wasco County and one in Clackamas County, where it is attempting to improve water quality on stretches of water that show excess levels of agricultural pollutants. As part of those projects, the department is documenting land conditions to determine where they can be improved, and working to improve conditions where they can.

The department also in recent years has been working with the Department of Environmental Quality on a pesticide stewardship partnership program, which works with landowners on a voluntary basis to improve agricultural practices in ways that limit agriculture’s impact on water quality. Those projects, like the pilot projects, are focusing on water-quality limited areas.

The ODA regulates the state’s agricultural water quality program under an agreement with the Oregon DEQ, which the federal EPA has designated as the lead agency to administer the Clean Water Act in Oregon.

Oregon’s agricultural water quality is administered under Senate Bill 1010, which Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law in 1993.

Districts rely on goodwill make things happen Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:11:38 -0500 MITCH LIES Two years ago, when the Oregon Department of Agriculture was holding hearings on changing the focus of its agricultural water quality program, one thing became clear early on: The state’s 45 soil and water conservation districts were not going to play a part in enforcement.

Doing so, according to Jerry Nicolescu, executive director of the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, would jeopardize the good will the districts have earned from years of working with landowners.

The department agreed: “The districts have spent literally decades building positive working relationships with the agricultural community, and we do not want to jeopardize that,” said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

Many districts serve as liaisons between government bodies and landowners, Nicolesu said, because government bodies realize the districts offer agencies their best chance of achieving positive results.

The government bodies, in turn, funnel grant funds and projects through the districts, helping keep districts viable.

Oregon has 45 districts, 29 of which represent a county. Six counties have two districts, and Baker County has four.

Each district has a board of directors, made up of between five and seven volunteers elected by county voters.

Lawmakers in 2013 approved a $628,000 two-year operating budget for the ODA to oversee district operations. Among other functions, the department’s four-person staff trains directors, administers stipends to cover director expenses, helps administer elections, and, in cases where districts operate under a tax base, helps administer the tax levy.

Twelve of the state’s 45 districts operate on tax bases. The Tillamook Soil and Water Conservation District is the most recent to have passed an operating levy. It kicked in this year.

The tax bases, authorized by county voters, enable a district to accept property taxes, which the districts use to pay for staff and some basic support.

District budgets vary widely, even among those operating under tax bases: Some operate on budgets of around $300,000 a year in base funding, while some heavily populated urban districts operate on base funds approaching $2 million a year.

Districts use their base funding as leverage to obtain federal and state grants that typically are tied to individual projects.

Healthy operating budgets can play a big part in a district’s ability to improve soil and water quality through on-the-ground projects, but isn’t always necessary to achieve success, Byers said.

“We have very sparsely populated districts, such as Illinois Valley, that have very successful programs, although they don’t have the funds that other districts do,” Byers said. “Through grants and hard work and dedication of the boards of directors, they do good work on the ground.”

Nicolescu said he sees an ebb and flow to the effectiveness of different districts, based on who is elected, what kind of leadership districts have at any one time, the amount of money coming in, and the ability to go out and get money beyond what the state provides.

“What I see right now,” Nicolescu said, “is that districts are very active.”

The history of soil and water conservation districts dates back to 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Soil Conservation Service to address problems with soil erosion. In 1937, Roosevelt asked state governors to promote legislation to form local soil conservation districts.

Oregon lawmakers passed authorizing legislation in 1939. Oregon’s first district, the South Tillamook Soil Conservation District, formed in 1940.

In 1963, according to a report from the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District, the Legislature added water to the name of the districts.

NRCS programs improve efficiency on ranch Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:11:21 -0500 LACEY JARRELL Installing underground irrigation pipes and isolation valves can help reduce leaks caused by exposure and increase water efficiency, said cattle rancher John Prock of Midland, Ore.

He increased production on his family’s 1,200-acre property with a series of cost-sharing programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

When the Procks purchased the property in 2006, the irrigation piping was above ground and leaked. None of the irrigation piping was fitted with valves, and just one pump pushed water through the entire system. In addition, irrigation wheel lines were spaced one per 40 to 60 acres, he said.

“It’d take all day long to fire the system up, and once you were going, you were going unless something broke,” he said. “Now if something breaks, I can just shut a valve.”

With the help of the NRCS programs, Prock was able to move his irrigation piping underground and coupling joints were placed at 50-foot intervals. The underground pipe immediately minimized gasket leaks, and the new risers mean Prock only has to move the wheel lines six rolls at a time, he said.

The NRCS programs also helped pay for flow meters, additional pumps and soil sampling. Irrigation improvements were made through the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program, which David Ferguson, Klamath Falls NRCS manager, said is no longer available. But an energy audit through Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps pay for cost-saving energy measures, may be able to be linked to consumption services like water. The energy program is available under the current Farm Bill, Ferguson said.

Prock said it used to take 12 to 14 days to irrigate a field. Now, with the new risers and only 1 wheel line per 20 acres, it only takes six days. Since the improvements, the ground stays more hydrated and his alfalfa grows faster.

“In the long run you don’t have to use as much water and the crop is coming back faster and better, so you’re getting more productivity,” Prock said.

A New Holland H8040 self-propelled windrower, purchased separate from the NRCS program, with a wide conditioner also increased Prock’s efficiency. He said the machine lays the hay out in a wider swath, and it dries and gets baled faster. That allowed him to get water back on the field quicker and gained him about three days per field.

“It used take seven to eight days, now I can almost get it in five. It actually gained us an extra cutting,” he said.

Previously, Prock harvested three cuttings from an alfalfa field. Now he gets four cuttings, and his product has improved substantially.

“A lot of his objectives have been met. They are using up to 30 percent less water and we helped figure out where the weak spots are,” Ferguson said.

According to Ferguson, the goal of NRCS programs is to improve farm operations to meet society’s demand on resources.

“It’s the key thing; everybody wants more water,” he said.

The first step is meeting with NRCS to find out which options are available for your farm and determine if they are in line with the farm objectives, Ferguson said. He suggested having property maps and any relevant property or asset statements available for review.

High tunnels help increase productivity Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:11:03 -0500 LACEY JARRELL A grant program to help conserve water and lengthen growing seasons is still open to Northwest farmers.

Natural Resources Conservation Service manager David Ferguson said the program is available to farmers who can provide receipts and show they are already harvesting and selling produce within their community.

“The intent of the program is to increase the amount of locally produced commodities,” Ferguson said.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program grant helped Sam Cubel and Shannon Payne build a high tunnel hoop greenhouse to conserve water and extend the growing season at their 2-acre organic farm in Klamath Falls, Ore.

The high tunnel protects from light frost and wind that wicks water from the alkaline soil.

“The soil actually repels water,” he said.

The couple learned of the program in March 2012 at a farmers’ market meeting for vendors. Payne said it took about one year to get approval, and within 14 months the tunnel was complete.

The couple is now in the follow-up portion of the grant program, and they must submit records of successes, failures and yields for three years from the time the tunnel was finished in 2013, Payne said. Last year, the couple grew 1,387 pounds of tomatoes, 407 pounds of cucumbers and 600 beets in the tunnel.

“Without the tunnel, we would still be able to grow food for the market but it would be a struggle,” Shannon said.

Ferguson said EQIP grants can be made to suit any farm needs, but the tunnel must be at least 6 feet tall and cannot exceed roughly 2,000 square feet.

“They can have one or they can have two or three as long as they don’t exceed that square footage,” Ferguson said.

The 70-by-20-foot tunnel cost about $7,500, Payne said. She and Cubel received $6,800 from the grant to purchase the tunnel and they used $2,000 of their money for framing materials. It took three weeks for them to install the tunnel and cover it with a 70 percent shade cloth that protects plants and topsoil from the elements, keeps the ground cool and prevents evaporation, Payne said.

According to Cubel, another grant requirement is to have ground cover, like Austrian peas or clover, year-round. Cover crops planted around the perimeter of the tunnel catch roof runoff and prevent it from washing away the topsoil, he said.

The couple also plants crops densely to prevent weeds, shade the ground, and promote good water conservation practices.

“It’s a win-win,” Sam said.

According to Ferguson, high tunnels are the best way to produce vegetables in Klamath County.

“It’s pretty hard here with the short growing season and the cold nights, and this really helps moderate the temperatures and get some heat on the plants,” he said.

The next NRCS EQIP deadline is Feb. 21.

Monitoring helps winegrape growers save water Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:10:35 -0500 JULIA HOLLISTER Mark Greenspan is teaching vineyard managers in California to save as much as half the water they normally use on irrigation.

“I did my graduate work in water on grapevines with irrigation and water management,” Greenspan, owner of Advanced Viticulture in Windsor, Calif., said. “I worked for Gallo doing research projects with mostly water management, then started consulting in 2005.”

He worked with the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission recruited him to work on an outreach water project.

“The idea was to demonstrate what we do working with growers at Constellation Vineyard and manager Tom Gore,” he said. “I selected two very different two blocks in Alexander Valley — one was in a deep, rich, heavy clay soil and another with a rocky soil.”

Greenspan wanted to contrast the two locations and manage them differently. He picked them because both had similar root stock but were irrigated differently.

He put 4-foot-long probes in the soil that recorded how much moisture was in the soil and whether the remaining water was taken up by the plant.

“The probes also recorded how deep irrigation goes because we didn’t want to irrigate past the rooting depth,” he said. “The instruments allowed us to monitor that and to determine how quickly the water has been taken up by the plant.”

The soil was measured continually and the plants monitored weekly. The aim was to provide just enough moisture in the soil to allow plant growth.

“The main thing is for me to work with the growers to indicate to them that with this they don’t have to irrigate on a certain schedule,” Greenspan said. “I wanted to allay the fear that grew from the belief that they are running out of water.”

The growers were surprised by the result. During 2012 and last year, they didn’t start irrigating until late summer. The conservation project saved over 50 percent of the water the growers normally used.

The study was funded through a USDA grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.

“My goal was to teach and train the growers and vineyard managers how to use these tools,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of vineyards in the county are now using these tools.”

Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, recognized the importance of Greenspan’s efforts.

“Mark’s work is instrumental in creating awareness and educating local grape growers on water conservation and the best management practices,” he said “This is especially important now, given the drought we are facing because every drop of water does matter.

“He has been able to reach out to the growing community and we think that not only helps build relationships but puts words into action.”

District helps dairy with new pump Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:09:34 -0500 Erick Peterson The owners of RuBen Dairy in rural Grant County, Wash., were pleased with their agri-pump immediately after its first use, and they expressed their gratitude to the organization that they said made it possible.

“We wouldn’t have this if not for the conservation district,” said Henry Benthem, co-owner with Ranie Rupard.

The district paid half of the cost of the agri-pump — $25,500.

They have a large lagoon with a 3 million- to 4 million-gallon capacity, which holds manure before it is spread onto their fields as fertilizer. As they pump this manure into the lagoon, the solids fall to the bottom, where they build up and fill the lagoon.

“This is a problem,” said Rupard.

Actually, it’s one of two problems.

If solids are allowed to build up, they will reduce the lagoon’s capacity. Also, if only the liquids, which lack the nutrients of the solids, are be sprayed onto the fields, the crops could suffer.

Agri-pumps keep the contents of lagoons in suspension so both liquids and solids are sprayed on the fields.

Marie Lotz and Lyle Stoltman of the Grant County Conservation District said that this is an example of the cost-sharing programs that brought their organization together with local farmers.

Stoltman said the district has helped other local dairies solve their lagoon problems in the past, by paying for half of large tire scrapers that drag semi-solids from lagoons. The cost of the tire scrapers is only $1,200, but RuBen Dairy could not use one because it would damage the lining of the lagoon.

Benthem and Rupard, who grew up in Snoqualmie Valley on separate dairies and partnered on their new dairy, were in a difficult position. They wanted to get the most out of their lagoon, but they lacked funds for the necessary equipment.

Stoltman said that he is glad the district could help.

“These guys have done really well at irrigation water and nutrient management,” he said. “They want to do a good job as dairymen and stewards of the land.”

Through cost sharing, the district has worked with around 30 local dairies on a variety of projects.

“Quality water helps everyone,” he said. He added that the district is looking for additional ways to help local dairies, farms and the public.

Diverse interests make creek restoration possible Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:08:54 -0500 Erick Peterson At $2.1 million, the Manashtash Creek Restoration Project is the most expensive work undertaken by the Kittitas County Conservation District.

Still, according to Anna Lael, district manager, this project, which is adding fish screens to local waterways, has great value. It will protect fish from being diverted into irrigation ditches and farmers from potential litigation.

Lael traces the history of the project to 1999, when the Mid-Columbia summer steelhead was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Everyone was really nervous,” Lael said.

Several irrigation diversions along Manashtash Creek did not have fish screens, which would keep the steelhead in the creek. This situation could have led to the fish dying, for which the irrigators could be fined, according to Lael.

Concerned irrigators gathered in meetings of the Farm Bureau and other organizations to discuss the issue, and then went to the conservation district to get help.

“That group got together, talked and agreed on some tenants,” Lael said. “They would get fish screens in, get the passage barriers out and deal with this reach of Manashtash Creek that goes dry every summer — and that agriculture would remain whole.”

They came to an agreement with environmentalists, and they brought their solution to the state Legislature.

“The legislators were so taken aback that they were seeing environmentalists and ranchers wanting the same thing that they were willing to give anything they wanted,” she said.

In 2010, contractors completed the first two of the diversions and fish screens. The next year they completed another fish screen and fish passage, which left them with moving the Hatfield and Reed diversions and decommissioning the old structures. They will also relocate another diversion and decommission that original structure.

Looking forward to the completion of the project this winter, Lael said she was grateful to all of the participants for their efforts.

Dale Dyk, owner of Mountain Spring Farm, is one of the people who have worked on the project. He grows Timothy, Sudan grass and seed wheat for the export market.

He farms on a combination of leased and owned ground, which includes over 800 acres of irrigated land.

He has been working to install these fish screens for almost 14 years, he said.  He served on the Kittitas County Conservation District Board of Supervisors and is a shareholder in the Manastash Water Ditch Association.

He made the first request of the conservation district for help with fish screens on his irrigation diversion. 

“We were trying to get ahead of fish issues,” he said. As such, he served on the Manastash Creek Steering Committee through this project.

He said the project has been interesting, as he worked as an ally of environmental groups, and he credits the conservation district for its efforts.

Though he is satisfied with his involvement and the contributions of other people, he is glad their work is reaching an end.

“It’s been a long process.  I never thought I’d live long enough to see this done,” he said.

District works with ranch on fish screen Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:08:23 -0500 Erick Peterson Mark Herke in Yakima, Wash., credits the North Yakima Conservation District with helping him avoid a potential problem.

He works on Herke Ranch, which is owned by his father, John Herke. Founded in 1871 by his great-grandfather, the Herke Ranch has 1,900 acres and 155 cows. A diversified operation, it also crushes rock in a rock pit on the property and harvests timber.

The ranch is on Ahtanum Creek, a tributary of the Yakima River. As such, he must worry about endangered steelhead and bulltrout ending up in his fields.

Operations that are found to harm fish habitat are subject to a lawsuit.

One by one, his neighbors have installed fish screens to keep the fish out of their irrigation water and thus avoid litigation. Now it is his turn, and he said he is happy to have a partner in the North Yakima Conservation District.

“I’m enthusiastic about being able to keep water irrigation rights,” he said. “If we’re not screened at some point, the big hammer (enforcement) is going to come down on our heads.”

The advantage of doing this now, rather than waiting, is that he can now get help. The district has obtained help from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to pay for the screening.

His cash cost to date has been zero.

Michael Tobin, manager of the North Yakima Conservation District, said the project has cost $251,000, which includes engineering and design, permitting and construction, and it is one of half a dozen screens recently installed in his area. The district has also installed pump screens to replace ones that do not comply with current laws.

The Herke Ranch project is nearly finished, with the only remaining element being the installment of a ramp flume that measures the landowner’s water rights for use. And Tobin is glad to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s exciting to see projects like this constructed with willing landowners that provide true win-win scenarios,” Tobin said.

He explained that the project brought together two previously unscreened gravity diversions into a single diversion that would be handled with a modular rotary drum screen.

After creating this consolidated diversion, contractors created a roughened channel. This was completed last October and gives passage to fish and other aquatic organisms.

It was a project that involved much construction, the transportation of boulders and even the dewatering of the stream as much of this work was taking place.

While it was his district and others that got this work done, Tobin said that Herke would be responsible to keep it free of debris and operational.

“That will be his responsibility, his cost of this project,” Tobin said. “But he’s been a great partner so far, and it’s something that he will want to do.”

Joint effort aids Lemhi River Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:07:49 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas Many of the projects the Lemhi Soil and Water Conservation District takes on benefit anadromous fish — steelhead and Chinook salmon — in addition to helping farmers and ranchers more efficiently meet their irrigation needs.

“One we recently did on the upper Lemhi was part of a group of projects done jointly with Trout Unlimited, Nature Conservancy and Idaho Fish and Game,” Quinton Snook, project manager for the district in Salmon, Idaho, said. “It made a permanent re-connect in Lemhi Little Springs Creek.”

The goal was to divert irrigation water closer to where it is used, eliminating the need for a 7-mile-long irrigation ditch and three irrigation diversions and improving water flows and fish migration.

“The ditch took water out of the river and dumped it into Little Springs Creek to run it down to the field. That long ditch often blew out and filled the river with mud,” Snook said.

The field belongs to Tex and Melba Kauer and their McFarland Livestock Co., he said.

“It (previously) took about 20 cubic feet per second to water those fields, and we put in a system that uses less than 2 CFS,” he said. “It was a great improvement for the ranch, having pivots for sprinkler irrigation.”

Switching to sprinklers kept about 10 CFS of water in the creek year-round, providing cool water for fish.

“In the past it was completely blocked off and fish couldn’t get up there,” Snook said.

Some projects can utilize a Department of Water Resources program in which the department pays for the power for the pumps for 20 years. This helps the rancher because pumping expenses are high, Snook said.

“This ranch also had a calving corral that was in violation of the Clean Water Act, with cattle drinking out of a spring running through the corral,” Snook said. “We had a little money left from the sprinkler project so we put in water troughs and piped the overflow out of the corral.”

Tex Kauer said the change to sprinkler irrigation has helped his ranch.

“It’s more expensive to irrigate than what we thought, but we’ve been able to increase production from those fields, and there’s less water loss,” he said.

“This project eliminated several miles of ditch. We lost a lot of water in that ditch, and it also took a lot of maintenance. Now we don’t have to worry about that,” Kauer said. “Instead, we have maintenance on the sprinkler system. So far it’s been about an equal trade-off, and less labor involved in irrigation.”

The new watering system at the calving corrals is working nicely, he said.

“The excess runs out without going through manure,” he said. “This made a better drinking facility for the cattle, and the ducks and geese also enjoy that corral!”

Raft River rebounds through joint effort Fri, 7 Feb 2014 13:07:33 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas Ten years ago, water quality monitoring showed the Raft River had serious problems. Originating in Utah, flowing 75 miles through public and private grazing lands and past feedlots and farmers’ fields, the Raft River empties into the Snake River in Cassia County, Idaho.

Containing high levels of bacteria and sediment, the Raft River in 1994 was recognized as a degraded water body.

According to Teri Murrison, administrator of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission, the first efforts to improve water quality began in 1999, when adjacent landowners began working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state Department of Environmental Quality and East Cassia Soil and Water Conservation District.

“Together they initiated the Raft River Riparian and Watershed Demonstration Project, using a water quality grant from DEQ,” she said.

Goals were erosion control, revegetation and relocating a feedlot next to the river. Carolyn Firth of the East Cassia District became involved in 2002. The district had the grant, but the project manager had left. Firth’s job was to get the project underway.

When a stream is put on a list of impaired waters under the federal Clean Water Act, it means the water is not meeting its beneficial uses, she said.

“Each stream in Idaho was evaluated by DEQ to determine beneficial uses. It might be primary contact such as swimming, or secondary contact like fishing or irrigation,” Firth said.

Once a stream is put on that list, it needs attention. Idaho Soil Conservation Commission and local Soil Conservation Districts are responsible for the agricultural part — if the impacts result from agriculture.

“It’s our job to work with individual landowners to see what we can do to address these issues,” Firth said, adding that they needed to decrease the pollutant load going into the Raft River.

“Streams can assimilate and dissipate a certain amount of pollutants (such as fertilizers) and sediments. Once they get beyond that point, they need attention,” Firth said.

Several landowners were switched from flood irrigation to sprinklers on fields next to the river.

“With flood irrigation there was erosion along the riverbank and cattle waste was carried into the river,” Firth said.

One landowner moved a corral.

“They were able to get financial help to build new corrals away from the river and put in a water system so cattle didn’t have to go to the river to drink,” she said.

DEQ monitored the river and saw bacteria levels dropping significantly each year, and proposed the section be delisted.

From 1999 through 2008, 24 nonfunctional diversion structures were replaced to improve the management of irrigation water, 41 rock drop structures were installed to stabilize stream gradients, and 20 rock crossings were installed to protect the streambed. About 43,000 acres were voluntarily removed from production by landowners through the USDA Conservation Reserve Program.

As a result, water quality samples collected during 2010 and 2011 led DEQ to propose removing the “bacterial impairment” designation for a 19.1-mile section of the Raft River from the list of impaired waters.

This success was a collaborative effort with landowners, state, local and federal agencies, Murrison said, adding that voluntary, locally led stewardship is key to conservation successes in Idaho.

“Farmers/ranchers are the most important and necessary partners in this four-way conservation partnership,” she said. “Without their cooperation and boots-on-the-ground efforts, these conservation projects would not be possible.”