Pilot Project for Livestock Management Aims to Improve Water Quality in Klamath Basin

May 28, 2014

A five-year pilot project that will exclude livestock from a Sprague River site aims to keep many pounds of phosphorus and sediment out of the river, announces The Freshwater Trust, which has signed a contract with energy utility PacifiCorp.

Livestock can have a significant impact on water quality. Balancing a successful ranching operation with good stewardship of water resources is a pressing challenge for the Sprague’s agricultural community. Vegetation along stream and river banks–the riparian zone–supports both land and water species; additionally, the vegetation serves an important buffering function by preventing soil and excess nutrients from running into the river. Exclusion fencing is a cost-effective tool for ranchers to utilize when addressing riparian health.

Beginning last year, The Freshwater Trust evaluated and identified key streamside sites in the Sprague River subbasin, a tributary of Upper Klamath Lake, where the exclusion of livestock from the stream would result in lower nutrient loads. From this list of key sites, The Freshwater Trust will recruit a voluntary landowner and, in partnership with a local organization, will install fencing in late spring to exclude livestock from occupying the riparian zone and the river at this site. The roughly one-half-mile fenced area will include off-channel watering facilities and be maintained and monitored for five years.

“This nutrient reduction pilot program provides the opportunity to implement an on-the-ground action that addresses one of the most pressing issues for the Klamath. It’s well known that reductions in streamside grazing and reestablishing riparian buffers are key elements of addressing water quality, and this program seeks to establish a quantifiable link between nutrient reduction obligations and meaningful restoration actions that improve water quality,” says Eugene Wier, Klamath Project Manager for The Freshwater Trust.

Information gained from the pilot project will assist in the further development and refinement of the Klamath Tracking and Accounting Program(KTAP) protocol to support future nutrient reduction projects that can be used to generate phosphorus credits and steer restoration funding towards projects that will offer the greatest benefit for the resources invested.

By funding the pilot project—and potentially scaling it up to multiple sites or adding other conservation actions—PacifiCorp and local livestock operators will be able to make a measurable, positive impact in the Klamath Basin as well as test the infrastructure for delivering environmental benefits over time.

The project is part of the on-going restoration work funded by PacifiCorp under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The KHSA is a binding agreement between PacifiCorp and 46 federal and state agencies, tribes, counties, irrigators, interested parties and NGOs that provides for the potential removal of PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project. The KHSA and the related Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement include actions to improve water quality and flow in the Klamath River watershed to support fish habitat and a healthy watershed. As part of the agreement, it is anticipated that four of PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric dams will be removed from the river in 2020 (pending federal approval). Prior to potential dam removal, PacifiCorp is funding three restoration projects along the Klamath River and key tributaries.

As a leader in quantified conservation, The Freshwater Trust is changing the way restoration projects are designed, implemented, and tracked. The non-profit Trust has collaborated successfully with regulators, regulated entities and local farmers and ranchers on restoration projects through practical water quality improvement programs and is the only private organization in Oregon to have successfully created, registered and retired trading credits under new standards.

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