Livestock producers can learn to monitor their own water

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Some Washington cattle producers are learning to test their surface water.

The Whitman County Conservation District, with cooperation from the Palouse, Pine Creek and Palouse Rock Lake conservation districts, will offer a free clinic at 9 a.m. on May 14. The location is on Railroad Avenue in Colfax, Wash., one block west of Bunchgrass Veterinary Clinic at 707 N. Main St.

"We want to teach people the proper protocols for testing water for fecal coliform," said district supervisor Tom Kammerzell, a Colfax rancher. "We want people to understand and learn how to do the test to look at the same information (the Washington Department of Ecology) is looking at."

Washington State University regional extension specialist Stephen Van Vleet sees a value in helping producers test their water.

"They need to show agencies they are doing things correctly, in a sustainable and conservation-minded way," he said.

If producers can determine they are following protocol correctly, it may be some other factor causing a negative impact to a riparian area, stream bank or water quality, Van Vleet said.

The point is "for them to be able to say, 'I'm actually enhancing the water' or 'Yes, this is causing a problem, what do we do to correct this problem?' before it's just assumed that's the problem and they're going to be fined," he said.

Kammerzell recommends the clinic to all producers with a water body going through their property.

"Once the Department of Ecology's interests wane from the livestock producer, they will start being interested in water quality with regard to the farmers," he said. "Our interest is getting the knowledge and education into the hands of the people."

Jani Gilbert, regional communications manager for Ecology, said there's no problem if livestock producers wish to do their own testing.

"They learn a lot about their own water that way," she said.

The department has its own ambient water-monitoring program, but Gilbert said the department would like to see trend or aggregate numbers from cattlemen.

For more information about the clinic or to register by May 12, contact Kammerzell at tomk@pionnetwb.com or 509-397-4589.

Gilbert advised that cattle contribute to many water pollution parameters, not just fecal coliform bacteria. One-time sampling can miss pollution sources or events, so Ecology conducts sampling once a month for a year or more to get valid data.

If producers find something that makes them uncomfortable, they should contact Ecology for funding resources and technical help, Gilbert said.

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