Capital Press | Water Capital Press Wed, 22 Nov 2017 14:03:01 -0500 en Capital Press | Water Hop farmers make improvements for clean water Thu, 13 Apr 2017 12:54:19 -0500 Gail Oberst Salmon-Safe, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for best practices has certified a growing number of hops growers in the region.

Since 2012, Alluvial, Sodbuster, Annen Brothers, Goshie and Crosby hop farms in Oregon have joined the ranks of the certified, following a growing demand from craft breweries for eco-friendly ingredients.

In Washington, Roy Farms, Green Acre Farms, BT Loftus Ranches, Cowiche Canyon Britt Farm and Perrault Farms are certified. In British Columbia, Hooh Hops and Left Fields are certified, and so is the Sierra Nevada Estate Hop Farm in California.

Why target hop growers in the effort to improve Northwest waters? The Willamette and Yakima valleys, home to 90 percent of U.S. hops, are also key watersheds for wild salmon, according to Dan Kent of Salmon-Safe. A farm can earn certification using various methods to reduce its impact on the watershed. Among those strategies: Reducing pesticides that are harmful to fish and wildlife, restoring stream buffers, reducing irrigation water use, creating areas for native plants, and ensuring that there is no runoff or erosion. Certification is often in conjunction with organic certification or other whole-farm plans.

And, apparently, the market is demanding fish-friendly ingredients. Among breweries now using hops from Salmon-Safe certified farms are Deschutes, Full Sail, Hopworks Urban, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Widmer, Worthy Brewing and many others.

In 2015, Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland took the concept one step further, revised its wastewater treatment, and earned Salmon-Safe certification for its entire brewery.

Salmon-Safe innovations on the farm vary. Annen Brothers, for example, installed an updated composting system that keeps rotting vines and leaves from washing into nearby streams, and stores cleaned-up water for reuse.

Sodbuster Farms uses drip irrigation and has reformulated chemical applications to its 900 acres of hops, halting runoff into the nearby Willamette River. Sodbuster President Doug Weathers said he applies the same regimen to all of the 1,200 acres of hazelnuts and grass seed on his farm, earning the farm Wilbur-Ellis’ Technology Grower of the Year award.

Salmon-Safe projects on Crosby Hop Farm added to its credentials as a B Corporation, a designation for companies that have a positive impact on society and the environment. Solar panels and wind turbines power cold storage for Crosby’s T-90 hop pellets. Reduced pesticide use and expanded plantings for pollinators and along streams improved water quality.

Hops are not the only operations looking to meet Salmon-Safe standards. More than 85,000 acres on nearly 500 farms on the West Coast have been certified in the past 20 years.

For more information about Salmon-Safe, visit the web page at, or call the Portland office, 503-232-3750.

After big fires, watersheds must be restored Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:02:37 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas In recent years the West has experienced many catastrophic fires that create long-term watershed damage. With no vegetation left to hold the soil in place, flooding and erosion can follow.

In August 2015 a large fire in Northern Idaho left massive destruction in several counties, destroying homes and natural resources. This spurred a team effort between government agencies and local landowners to work toward repairing the damage.

Eileen Rowan at the Orofino field office of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission, says her five-county area put together a team to do the technical work to assess what was needed for restoring the natural resources, while another group addressed rebuilding of homes.

“As our group came together, the Association of Conservation Districts went to the Idaho Legislature and obtained funds to work on some of the high priority projects identified by the technical group,” Rowan said. “After we had the money we contacted landowners to decide on projects we might do.”

The Idaho Conservation District also applied for a Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund grant to work on the Lolo Creek Cutoff Road because of all the erosion. No timber remained to hold the soil, and with salvage harvest, the roads were being used more.

“We obtained a grant to work on that road, and we also worked with the Idaho Firewise program,” she said.

The Clearwater Soil and Water District obtained the first grant in the area with Idaho Firewise, and did 25 homeowner assessments so they could help landowners protect them more effectively from wildfire.

These assessments looked at fire risks and suggested management practices that would be helpful to homeowners, farmers and ranchers.

“Lewis County also received a Firewise grant this past fall and has done 7 assessments. Idaho County has done 10 assessments,” said Rowan.

The technical group has been working with landowners to replant trees after the salvage logging.

“They’ve also reseeded critical areas, and rebuilt a lot of fence because many miles of fences were burned up in the fire,” she said.

The re-seeding was an effort to repair the watershed and improve water quality.

“Many fire lines were put in by fire crews and by farmers and ranchers while fighting the fire. All of those needed to be seeded because they went down to bare soil,” she said. Many burned areas also had no vegetation, so these projects were an effort to speed the healing process — toward a more stable natural condition.

“This is ongoing. It looks like the Idaho Conservation District will again obtain a landscape restoration grant from IDL (the Idaho Department of Lands),” she said. “That money should come in June of 2017 to help us work with farmers and ranchers to do more seeding and planting.”

Most of the 2015 fires were on private land instead of federal or state-owned lands, so they are trying to help the farmers and ranchers, said Rowan.

“The group effort is paying off. This included County Emergency Management people, the weed supervisors, commissioners for four affected counties, conservation districts, Idaho Soil Conservation Commission, IDL, (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service, and many volunteers who were not being paid. Everyone came to the table to help,” she said.

“We are still working on this project. Many good things are coming out of it besides the reseeding and road repairs (which included putting in culverts to take care of runoff and minimize erosion),” she said. “The landscape restoration grant in June will enable us to make the next big push to continue the watershed repair.”

Agencies team up to solve irrigation problem Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:00:32 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas A few years ago, a seriously degraded section of Pebble Creek — which had been straightened for irrigation purposes by a previous landowner — was restored to its natural condition through a team effort by several agencies, private interests and the current landowner.

This was a step forward, but it still did not address all of the problems for the stream in southeastern Idaho, near Bancroft.

Another project more recently focused on resolving a serious washout that destroyed a major irrigation ditch, dumping sediment into Pebble Creek.

Correcting the problem required consolidation of nine irrigation diversions — involving four landowners — into one central diversion that included a fish screen.

“Pebble Creek is the last remaining stronghold for Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the Portneuf River sub-basin,” said Chris Banks, project manager and owner of Conservation Basics LLC.

The landowners went to the Caribou Soil Conservation District asking for help after their irrigation ditch, which ran along a steep hill, washed out in 2011.

“This was not the first washout of this ditch. In fact, it had happened 17 times since the ditch was created,” Banks said. “However, this time it was a big one and it was estimated that nearly 100 tons of sediment washed down the hill, through a parking lot and into Pebble Creek.”

When the landowners approached the soil conservation district, it was obvious that something needed to be done, he said. Banks utilized his association with a group that calls itself the Portneuf River Project to bring more resources and expertise to the table.

“This irrigation ditch begins on Forest Service land, so bringing that agency into the project was essential, as certain protocols and rules would need to be followed. These included a cultural resources inspection and following (National Environmental Policy Act) guidelines,” Banks said.

“Louis Wasnewski, Forest Service hydrologist, has been incredible to work with, and his vast knowledge and skills bring a lot more than just a liaison for the Forest Service,” he said. “Louis has a great amount of experience in improving watersheds, and finding ways to save water, improve habitat and work with landowners at the same time.”

Other members of the project included the soil conservation district, Portneuf Soil and Water Conservation District, Caribou Conservancy Inc., South East Idaho Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Simplot, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sage Brush Steppe Regional Land Trust and Idaho State University.

“They have all donated money, time, resources and technical expertise,” Banks said.

The effort resulted in the conversion of an approximately 12,000-foot-long open ditch into a piped system, and the consolidation of all diversion points into one removed barriers for spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

“The newly installed fish screen allows fish to travel safely back to the stream without being stranded in the irrigation system, while still providing adequate water to the landowners for irrigation,” Banks said.

“This project will also result in reduced landowners’ cost for pumping while improving habitat for the trout,” he said. It also removed the risk of a washout occurring again.

“We all feel this has been a great project,” he said.

Dairy farmers tackle water quality challenges Thu, 2 Feb 2017 10:13:30 -0500 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 -0500 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 -0500 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 -0500 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 -0500 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 -0500 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.”