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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Washington: Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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Best Management Practices on Model Horse Farms:
Farm Plan Management Reduces Nutrients and Sediment

Heidi Wachter
King County Department of Natural Resources
Water and Land Development Division hwachter@ u. washington.edu
Primary Sources of Pollution:

horse farms
Primary NPS Pollutants:


Project Activities:

farm plan management (pasture management, manure management, mud management, wildlife enhancement, stream corridor management)

84 percent decrease in TSS from grass filter strips

35 to 85 percent pollutant reductions from paddocks

"Implementation and Evaluation of Livestock Water Quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) on Model Horse Farms" was a joint project between the King County Water and Land Resources Division (formerly Surface Water Management) and the King County Conservation District. King County has nearly 9,000 farms, housing between 30,000 and 40,000 horses. Some 600 of those farms are near Class 1 and 2 streams, and even more have drainage systems that flow to nearby streams, lakes, or wetlands. The primary goal of the project, which received $85,000 in 319 grant funding for the years 1995 to 1998, was to promote education and technical assistance to horse and farm owners with the Model Farm Project.

Model farms were selected in 11 watersheds throughout the county, and farm plans were implemented on 12 different sites. Farms were selected based in part on their ability to function as an education site and the owner's experience and interest in providing a role model for other horse and farm owners. Also, geographic location, potential for improvement, and the owner's willingness to implement and maintain the elements of the farm plan were important factors.

Education and technical assistance on model farms

For the 12 farms selected, costs for materials and labor associated with implementation were funded through a cost share, and the farm plan expenses were covered by funds from the farm owner and the 319 grant. Cost-shared farm plan elements included materials for composting facilities, fencing, pasture and hay land planting, and paddock areas.

Education concentrated on encouraging implementation of four BMPs—pasture management, manure management, mud management, and wildlife enhancement, including stream corridor management. Between 1995 and 1998, a series of education and outreach activities took place, including 10 tours, 13 education sessions, 12 outreach events, farm-related events, and presentations. They reached more than 5,000 horse and small farm owners in King County.

Real results

Support, encouragement, and a sustainable connection with the farmers were critical and resulted in full implementation of the farm plan BMPs on each of the 12 farms. The education activities not only promoted proper management practices but also encouraged a sense of stewardship for aquatic resources in the respective basins. But the clear results stem from the post-BMP implementation assessment.

The two BMPs chosen for assessment purposes were use of wood waste as a winter paddock footing material and use of grass filter strips for the treatment of surface runoff from winter paddocks. There was a reduction in pollutant concentrations after BMP implementation for all nutrients monitored except nitrite/nitrate/nitrogen. Despite this increase, consideration of the dissolved oxygen concentration after BMP implementation indicates that toxic nitrite levels would be unlikely because nitrite is rapidly broken down to nontoxic nitrate when a high dissolved oxygen content is present. Reductions in all other measured pollutants ranged from 35 to 85 percent.

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A Moo-ving Approach to Dairy Waste Management:
Fecal Coliform Pollution Reduced in Whatcom County

Mak Kaufman
Bellingham Field Office
Department of Ecology
Primary Sources of Pollution:

dairy farms
Primary NPS Pollutants:

fecal coliform bacteria
Project Activities:

dairy farmer outreach/education

BMPs to control manure


fecal coliform loads down 21 percent

The goal of the "Watershed-Based Approach to Dairy Waste Management" is to lower dairy-related levels of fecal coliform bacteria and other manure-associated contaminants in a watershed without alienating the dairy industry. The project, which is coordinated by the Washington State Department of Ecology, has received $90,000 in 319 funding for the past 3 years to improve water quality. The project has focused on Whatcom County in the northwest corner of Washington State, which borders British Columbia. To fully grasp the nature of the problem, consider that every adult milk cow produces the equivalent waste of 22 humans. There are some 69,000 cows (or the equivalent of 1.5 million people) in Whatcom County. This figure does not even account for the stock (about 30,000 cows) used to replace older, non-milk-producing cows.

Monitoring to target priorities

The Department of Ecology partnered with the Northwest Indian College to monitor fecal coliform levels bimonthly. In addition to the inspections of the state's dairy farms that are required by law, the consistent monitoring data collected by the college for this and other 319-funded projects have helped determine which subbasin tributaries have the highest levels of fecal coliform loading. Subsequently, reinspections are being conducted in those areas to determine whether the pollution is related to nearby dairies. Then the detected problems can be corrected. The fecal data collected by the Northwest Indian College are posted on the college's web site and cover all of the subbasin tributaries of the Nooksack River, as well as sites in the Drayton Harbor/Portage Bay areas. The web site is at www.nwic.edu. Exit EPA Disclaimer

Farm plans and agreements

Once the basins with the highest loading have been identified, the Department of Ecology inspects the area farmers' milking facilities, as well as all of the off-site replacement stock operations. Most of the problems have been found at the off-site locations because farmers typically do not invest as much time, attention, or money in those locations as they do in their primary milking facilities. Outreach and education are vital, and farmers are referred to the Whatcom County Conservation District for farm planning and technical assistance. These referrals, together with education and outreach, have encouraged farmers all over the county to implement best management practices (BMPs) such as long-term waste storage facilities, manure solids separators, rainwater gutters and downspouts, agronomic manure field applicator schedules, and fencing to keep livestock out of streams.

Although the Department of Ecology's goal is to increase compliance rather than to impose penalties, about $200,000 in fines have been imposed on roughly 4 percent of the dairy farmers in the county. Notices of Correction, an informal non-penalty means of enforcement for potential discharge problems, are used amply. The Department of Ecology issued about 75 notices as preventive solutions between July 1998 and June 2000.

As an additional measure, the Department of Ecology has recently signed an agreement with the Governor's office. This new agreement calls for a reduction of 15 percent per year in the fecal coliform loads as compared with the loads reported by the Department of Ecology's 1996 to 1998 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) fecal coliform monitoring study.

Real results

Although much work remains to be completed in terms of controlling nonpoint sources of contamination on dairy farms in Whatcom County, the current dairy inspection program has brought unprecedented change in the way dairy farmers operate their farms. The Department of Ecology's new approach to working with dairy farmers, particularly with respect to implementing BMPs, is still enforcement-oriented but also has struck a good balance with education and outreach. Fair but firm enforcement, both formal and informal, has helped break down the image of the enforcing agency as an enemy.

Upgrades to control pollution to date have been completed through partnerships established between the Department of Ecology, the Whatcom Conservation District, and the Whatcom County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. By working together, the partners have achieved impressive results. As of the last quarter of 1999, fecal coliform loads in the Bertrand/Fishtrap Creek subbasin were down 21 percent, and they are expected to drop further during the fall.

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Sediment Reduction in Yakima River Basin:
People Become Stewards of Their Own Watershed

Marie Zuroske
South Yakima Conservation District
Primary Sources of Pollution:

furrow irrigation in agricultural fields
Primary NPS Pollutants:

Project Activities:

conversion to sprinklers and drip irrigation

other sediment reduction practices (PAM application)

30 percent reduction in sediment load in the Moxee Drain

decrease in total suspended solids (86 percent in subbasin 10 and 56 percent in subbasin 5)

Since 1994 the Yakima Conservation District and Department of Ecology, along with many other groups, have been working to reduce sediment in the Yakima River Basin in eastern Washington State, including the Moxee Drain, Granger Drain, and Sulphur Creek Drain. The primary problem has been furrow irrigation, most notably on hops farms. This method of irrigation is notorious for causing sediment flow and also for introducing poisonous pesticides like DDT into the water. In 1994 furrowed irrigation was delivering 100 tons of sediment and pesticides per acre per year into the water. There are about 19,000 acres of irrigated land in the watershed.

In late 1993 the North Yakima Conservation District received 319 funding, and in 1996–1997, the South Yakima Conservation District also received 319 funding to work on the problem from the south. In the past several years, the Department of Ecology has begun to work on Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) on the Yakima River watershed in its entirety. By 1997 a 30 percent reduction in sediment load had been achieved in the Moxee Drain alone, and drip irrigation had been implemented on more than 2,000 acres of farmland.

Sulphur Creek progress

Sulphur Creek is a tributary of the Yakima River and one of the three major irrigation return flows in the Yakima Valley. It receives runoff from about 41,500 acres of irrigated agricultural land in the Sulphur Creek Basin. In 1997 the South Yakima Conservation District received 319 funding to implement best management practices (BMPs) in two subbasins of the watershed. Thirty farmers applied for technical and financial assistance in implementing these practices, and 16 of the proposals (covering 679 acres) were accepted.

wa3_1 Sulphur Creek is a tributary of the Yakima River and receives runoff from about 41,500 acres of agricultural land.

The primary method used to reduce sediment loads due to furrow irrigation is implementing more efficient drip irrigation methods, such as sprinklers. Site-specific BMPs were designed with the individual landowners. In one case, the demonstration included application of polyacrylamide (PAM) through a central pivot irrigation system. PAM is a coagulating agent that when used in irrigation causes better soil saturation and less runoff in the fields. The combination of these two management practices was new in this area.

Monitoring was conducted to measure the effects of installing the BMPs. Samples were collected at about 15 sites in the two subbasins from June 1997 through October 1999. One subbasin registered a decrease in total suspended solids of 86 percent, and the other subbasin showed a decrease of 56 percent.

wa3_2 After the installation of BMPs, subbasins reported decreases in TSS of as much as 86 percent.

The big picture

One of the primary goals of these combined 319-funded projects was to provide education and outreach to local groups and individual farmers to inspire people to become involved in their watershed. When people become stewards of their watershed, they begin to take responsibility for restoring and protecting it. In the past few years, stewardship of this watershed has become a vital interest of local irrigation districts and individual farmers.

In fact, education and outreach using demonstrated BMPs funded by 319 grants have been so successful that the irrigation districts have joined together on their own, forming a joint interest group called Roza-Sunnyside Board of Joint Control (RSBOJC). Taking responsibility for water quality themselves, they have applied for State Revolving Fund loan money. As an indirect result of 319 outreach and education, the RSBOJC succeeded in obtaining $10 million in loans to improve water quality in the watershed. Because of the RSBOJC's outstanding efforts, in 1998 Washington's Governor presented the Board an award for Environmental Excellence.

This phenomenal stewardship shows in the recovery effort. The Department of Ecology recently initiated its TMDL program to reduce pollutant loads in waters across Washington. For example, one of the Yakima TMDL goals was to reduce turbidity to below 25 ntu (turbidity units) by the end of 2002. Thanks to earlier 319 projects and to RSBOJC's current efforts, that goal has already been reached this year in most drains. Additionally, the Department of Ecology reports that as a result of RSBOJC's stewardship efforts, there has been no need to write an enforcement order in more than a year.

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