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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Arkansas: Cadron Creek Dairies Go Regional - A New Approach to Animal Waste Management


The Cadron Creek Watershed is a five-county, rural region in central Arkansas with a high concentration of poultry and dairy farms. Among its water resources, Cadron Creek is widely used for recreation, canoeing, and fishing; Brewer Lake provides drinking water to the cities of Morrilton and Conway. Other land uses in the project area include forestry (41 percent), grasslands (52 percent), and croplands (6 percent).

Project goals and methodology

All waters within the watershed are threatened by bacteria and nutrients from confined animal operations; at least 20 stream miles do not meet their designated uses, and it is likely that most small streams in the watershed do not meet the standard for contact recreation. To restore the watershed, the Van Buren County Conservation District used section 319 funds to begin an animal waste management demonstration project in the five counties: Van Buren, White, Cleburne, Conway, and Faulkner.

The district used the grant to purchase, demonstrate, operate, and maintain a portable land application system for liquid animal waste. The system collects and land applies liquid waste from 30 to 40 dairies to reduce water pollution and return nutrients to pastures and fields in the watershed. Monitoring on East and West Ward Creek and the establishment of on-farm waste management systems are other key elements of the project to protect the watershed's streams, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and groundwater.

Early results

Early results indicate some initial progress toward solving the problem. With only slight incentive, farmers are voluntarily applying best management practices (BMPs) to their operations, among them:

  • dead poultry composting,
  • nutrient management planning,
  • pasture management,
  • proper grazing use,
  • waste management systems, and
  • waste management ponds.

The cooperation of so many helps make the communitywide system affordable and ensures its operation according to state approved methods.

The project also functions as an educational tool; it shows farmers how to use dairy waste to return valuable nutrients to their pastures, and it addresses a sensitive public and regulatory issue, namely, the importance of using locally driven initiatives to protect local concerns (e.g., water quality). The Van Buren County Conservation Commission, working as a grassroots agency between the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology and the community, helps solve resource problems. Thus, the project solidifies a viable working partnership between the producers and federal, state, and local agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Restoring beneficial uses

Water quality monitoring on the tributaries of Ward Creek before and after installation of the waste systems indicates that the system successfully decreases nutrient and bacteria loading to the creek. For example, it has reduced the measure of fecal coliform bacteria in the stream by a factor of 10 (from 100,000 to 10,000 colonies per 100 mL). The count is still far higher than the 200 colonies per mL considered the maximum level for human contact; however, with continued efforts, it should be possible to restore swimming as a beneficial use of this stream.

Benthic macroinvertebrate communities (aquatic insects) are another indicator of watershed health and in-stream conditions. Species diversity, a standard indicator of benthic strength, is measured on the Family Biotic Index (FBI): the lower the FBI, the more diverse the community. The FBI in the monitored stream improved from 5.38 to 4.27; the first number indicates the probability of substantial organic pollution; the second, the probability of slight organic pollution.

Project managers recommend that appropriate agencies continue to educate dairy producers and other citizens about the public and private benefits of the BMPs. Eric Staggs, District Director for the Van Buren County Conservation District recently received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6, Environmental Excellence Award for his contributions to this project.

CONTACT: Bob Morgan
Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission
(501) 682-3954

Moore's Creek and Beatty Branch -
A Subwatershed in the Muddy Fork Hydrologic Unit Area

The Muddy Fork Hydrologic Unit Area Project, in the Arkansas River basin, encompasses 47,122 acres, the tributaries of the Illinois River and Lakes Lincoln, Budd Kidd, and Prairie Grove. The entire area is a USDA agricultural assistance, technology transfer, and demonstration project. A section 319 water quality monitoring operation is also ongoing in the hydrologic unit area, specifically, in the Moore's Creek and Beatty Branch subwatershed. Moore's Creek and Beatty Branch are in the Grand Neosho part of the Arkansas River basin between the Boston Mountains and the Springfield Plateau. These same tributaries form Lincoln Lake, a drinking water reservoir serving Lincoln, Arkansas. The 319 project monitors these waters to help establish the usefulness of nutrient BMPs.

Nutrient enrichment causes problems

A major source of pollution in the project area is nutrient enrichment resulting from confined animal feeding operations and pasture management. According to the state's 1996 Water Quality Inventory Report, a publication of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Protection, water in the Grand Neosho basin only partially supports aquatic life, while land uses, primarily poultry production and pasture management, are major sources of nutrients and chronic high turbidity.

Pathogens sampled in the Muddy Fork Hydrologic Unit Area also exceed acceptable limits for primary contact recreation (swimming). This problem was reported in the 1994 water quality inventory, and it, too, was traced to extensive poultry, swine, and dairy operations in the Moore's Creek basin. Essentially, all parts of the subwatershed are impacted by these activities.

Monitoring nutrient practices

The Muddy Fork project applied nitrogen and phosphorus management practices throughout the basin to help control the flow of nutrients from confined animal feeding operations. The 319 project began in September 1991. To demonstrate the integrated impact of the nutrient best management practices on water quality, five monitoring sites were established on Moore's Creek and Beatty Branch. At three sites, monitors collected biweekly grab samples; at the other two (downstream) sites, they collected storm-event samples in addition to biweekly grabs. All sampling was conducted in accordance with an EPA-approved Quality Assurance Plan.

A major source of pollution in the project area is nutrient enrichment resulting from confined animal feeding operations and pasture management.

Areas under BMP implementation were matched to the monitoring stations. At the Moore's Creek storm-event station, 24.3 percent of the land has come under BMPs since the project began. Since only about half of the watershed is in pasture, this figure represents about half the available acreage. At the Beatty Branch storm-event site, 36 percent of the total land is under BMP protocols, or about two-thirds of the available pasture.

The grab samples were analyzed for nitrate nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, orthophosphorus, total phosphorus, chemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, fecal coliform, fecal streptococci, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. The storm-event samples were tested for the same parameters with the exception of pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

Logging interferes

The project's original design was threatened after the project began, when the new owners of High Ocean Ranch (800 acres of Moore's Creek bottomlands) decided to sell their timber. Logging began in late 1995, and though it does not affect the Beatty Branch basin, logging sites above and below the sampling station could have had significant effects on the environment and might even have masked the results of project activities.

To accommodate this situation, project managers installed an additional sampling station in the Moore's Creek basin above the logging activity. Background data collected at this station will help gage the impact of the logging operation and make it possible to partition the effects of the BMPs.

Major accomplishments

Monitoring during the first three years of the project (1991 to 1994) showed decreasing levels of ammonia, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, chemical oxygen demand, nitrate, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids. To determine whether these levels continue to decrease or stabilize at the 1994 post-BMP levels, the sampling regime has been extended to September 1997.

The first three monitoring sites demonstrated significant improvements in water quality indicators and, with time, the chemical oxygen demand also decreased in the subbasins. Concentration decreases (of nitrate nitrogen, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, and chemical oxygen demand) at the automated station sites on Moore's Creek and Beatty Branch are as follows:

  • Nitrate nitrogen (NH3-255N) declined 66 percent per year on Moore's Creek; 54 percent per year on Beatty Branch.
  • Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (NH3-255N) declined 67 percent per year on Moore's Creek; 54 percent per year on Beatty Branch.
  • Chemical oxygen demand (COD) declined 44 percent per year on Moore's Creek; 67 percent per year on Beatty Branch.
CONTACT: Bob Morgan
Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission
(501) 682-3954


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