B.C. farmers reducing hoof print on the environment
The Salmon River Watershed in south-central British Columbia has long been a vital part of BC’s livestock industry. By implementing improved management practices, known as Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs), farmers are shrinking their livestock’s “hoof print” on the watershed.
“We’ve been working with producers to address stream contamination from surface runoff, soil erosion, and sedimentation from direct cattle access to the river,” explains Klaas Broersma, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Kamloops, in a release.
Since 2004, Broersma has been the lead for the Salmon River Watershed Evaluation of BMPs (WEBs) project, one of seven watershed studies underway across Canada funded by AAFC and Ducks Unlimited Canada. The Salmon River drains into Shuswap Lake near Salmon Arm, and the project presents an exceptional opportunity to examine water quality in a 1,500-square-kilometer area.
This past winter alone the Salmon River Watershed Roundtable and 17 producers put 127 stream bank restoration BMPs in place through the Canada-BC Environmental Farm Plan Program. Managing upland grazing opportunities and providing off-stream watering are key strategies for reducing livestock’s impact. Healthy riverbanks play an important role in trapping sediment and nutrients before they reach the river.
But cattle are only part of the water quality equation. Local wildlife, urban development and recreational activities also affect watershed health. To gain a better understanding of the big picture, AAFC, with support from a number of funding agencies such as BC government agencies, the University of Victoria and the North Okanagan Livestock Association, conducted a two-year study of water quality in four streams supplying drinking water in the north Okanagan that are grazed by cattle each summer in the watershed.
The study went beyond typical water quality testing, and determined how much E. coli bacteria was in the streams and their origins. DNA from the E. coli was used to determine the source of the bacteria and researchers were able to verify that the majority of E. coli came from wildlife sources (84 per cent in the first year and 73 per cent in the second year). Livestock accounted for 9.2 per cent and 18.3 per cent, in 2003 and 2004, respectively.