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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Utah: Little Bear River Project: Voluntary Approaches Yield Success


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Contact:
Jon Hardman
Natural Resources
Conservation Service
1860 North 100 East
North Logan, UT 84341
435-753-5616 (ext. 25)
jhardman@ utnorthlog.fsc.usda.gov
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (croplands, pasture, animal feeding operations)
Primary NPS Pollutants:

sediments

nutrients
Project Activities:

stream channel and bank restoration

grazing land improvements

animal waste management systems
Results:

reduced concentrations of total phosphorus

improved habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms

The Little Bear River watershed in Cache County, Utah, is listed as a high-priority watershed that is being adversely affected by nonpoint source pollution. The watershed covers 196,432 acres. Land use is approximately 70 percent range/forest, 19 percent irrigated cropland, 7 percent dry cropland, and 4 percent other. Land ownership is 85 percent private, 11 percent national forests, and 4 percent state lands.

In 1990 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided funding through the Hydrologic Unit Area Water Quality Program, giving birth to the Little Bear River Project. The Little Bear River Steering Committee was formed to provide local leadership and oversight of the watershed planning project. A technical advisory committee consisting of local, state, and federal resource agencies and representatives from Utah State University was formed to assist the Little Bear River Steering Committee with the watershed assessment. The technical advisory committee completed a watershed assessment in 1992.

The watershed assessment identified high sediment loads from eroded stream banks, as well as high nutrient and coliform loads from numerous animal feeding operations. Cropland and pastures were also found to be significant sources of nutrients in the Little Bear River watershed. Having identified the major causes of nonpoint source pollution in the watershed, the local steering and technical advisory committees developed the following project objectives:

  • Reduce erosion from streambanks and rangeland in critical areas.
  • Reduce nutrient and sediment loading from cropland, pasture, animal feeding operations, and rangeland.
  • Inform and educate landowners within the project boundary and the public of the need to improve and maintain water quality in the Little Bear River watershed.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs) and evaluate the benefits of water quality improvements.

Promoting voluntary approaches in the watershed

The overall project goal was to encourage landowners to implement conservation practices and BMPs voluntarily to improve the quality of water in the Little Bear River watershed. To make the voluntary approach successful, a diverse group of partners were invited to provide guidance and input into project priorities and activities. To date, more than 100 landowners have participated in the project. An important component of the project is the citizen volunteers. Local community groups have donated more than 3,000 hours to various projects.

In the early stages, watershed restoration focused on stream channel and bank restoration and on grazing land improvements. In 1994 more emphasis was placed on improving animal waste management systems. By 1998, 36 animal waste management systems had been designed, and they are currently in various stages of completion and implementation. From 1991 to 1996, $1,507,000 in section 319 funding was allocated to the watershed effort.

Measurable improvements in water quality

Currently, 6 years after the initial watershed restoration efforts, measurable improvements in water quality are being documented. There is a downward trend in total phosphorus concentrations in the watershed. As more animal waste management systems and BMPs are implemented, the downward trend is expected to continue. A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan has been developed, and further reductions in nutrient loadings will continue once the plan is implemented. The TMDL will target and reduce point source loads of phosphorus. By measuring the reduction of total phosphorus from point sources, the reduction of nonpoint source pollution can be determined to assess the success of the 319-funded projects.

Implementing BMPs throughout the watershed is also benefiting the aquatic community. In some reaches of the watershed, meanders have been restored in the stream channel. This work, and other structural work to control bank erosion, has improved habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms. Angler use has increased in the watershed, and this success has piqued the interest of other landowners in participating in the program.


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Success in the Chalk Creek Watershed:
Reduced Phosphorus, Enhanced Habitat Result

 


Contact:
Shane Green
Natural Resources Conservation Service
435-336-5853
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture
Primary NPS Pollutants:

sediments

nutrients
Project Activities:

fencing

prescribed grazing

revegetation

stream channel stabilization

sprinkler irrigation systems
Results:

reduced concentrations of total phosphorus

enhanced aquatic community


The Chalk Creek watershed in Summit County, Utah, encompasses 173,000 acres. Roughly 123,500 acres is rangeland, 2,000 acres is used as cropland, and 44,000 acres is forested. The watershed is 100 percent privately owned. Chalk Creek is a major tributary and source of sediment and nutrients to the Weber River, which supplies drinking water to Ogden, Utah, and other Wasatch Front communities.

Because Chalk Creek is an important water source and a recreational fishery, an intensive water quality assessment was conducted in 1990 to identify sediment and nutrient sources in the Chalk Creek watershed. The results of the watershed assessment indicated that the creek was impaired because of habitat alteration and sediment. The total phosphorus level was also above the Utah State Division of Water Quality Standards' indicator value for the beneficial use designation of a cold-water fishery. Utah officially placed the stream on its 303(d) list of impaired waters. EPA approved the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan in 1997. Between 1991 and 1999, $1,673,000 in section 319 funding was allocated to the watershed effort.

High local support for restoring watershed

In 1991 the local soil conservation district, landowners, water users, and resource managers initiated the Chalk Creek Nonpoint Source Water Quality Project to address the water quality impairment of Chalk Creek. By 1994 a coordinated watershed resource plan had been developed and a technical advisory committee, composed of local, state, and federal agencies, private individuals, and groups, had been formed to assist the local steering committee.

The primary goal of the Chalk Creek Nonpoint Source Water Quality Project was to reduce erosion and sedimentation entering the creek. Methods identified to reduce erosion in Chalk Creek were stabilization of streambanks, restoration of riparian vegetation, and improved rangeland vegetation to reduce overland runoff.


There was a high level of landowner support in the Chalk Creek watershed. By 1997 many of the 100 major watershed landowners, working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies, had begun designing resource management system plans and restoration projects. A typical Chalk Creek restoration project consists of fencing off the riparian zone on one or both sides of the creek, followed by implementing a rotational grazing management plan. Some projects address eroding banks by installing stream barbs or meanders in stream reaches that were historically straightened. Most restoration projects on Chalk Creek include planting willows at degraded sites. The most successful projects have natural willow regeneration on newly created floodplain deposition zones. The table summarizes the BMPs that have been implemented in various projects in the Chalk Creek watershed.

Best Management Practices Implemented in the Chalk Creek Watershed

Best management practice Amount completed
Brush management 1,479 acres
Riparian fencing 13,128 feet
Rangeland fencing 8,842 feet
Stock watering 3 units
Streambank protection 3,801 feet
Streambank vegetation 3,652 feet
Stream channel stabilization 8,655 feet
Prescribed grazing 15,443 acres
Sprinkler irrigation systems 1,118 acres

 

Total Phosphorus Concentrations in Chalk Creek (at Highway 189 in Coalville)

Utah_figure

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