Fact Sheet No. 31:
Rangeland Water Quality: Where are the Problems?
Mining, forest harvest, construction, roads, recreation, and agriculture are land uses that can be non-point sources of pollutants that reach California's water bodies. Grazing livestock and associated ranch activities can contribute to increased sediment, heat, nutrient, or pathogen loading in water bodies that flow through the state's grazed watersheds. Because nonpoint pollution sources are widespread and vary in severity, it is difficult for landowners and livestock producers to know what water bodies or watersheds are considered high priority by regulatory agencies. Recently, each Regional Water Quality Control Board listed priority watersheds. Generally speaking, pollutants that affect fish habitat are receiving high priority. Concern about salmon and steelhead populations and habitat has focused attention on North Coast watersheds, the Klamath River basin, and several tributaries to the Sacramento River. Selenium laden sediment and pathogens are also a high priority in a few watersheds. The potential listing of the coho salmon further emphasizes the importance of coastal watersheds, especially the North Coast.
Regulatory agencies are giving priority to watersheds where nonpoint source pollution reduces reproduction and survival of cold water fishes, especially salmon, steel head, and trout. Sediment, heat, and nutrients are the primary pollutants that reduce water quality for these fishes. Almost any land use: mining, forest harvest, crop production, construction, and grazing can contribute to the sediment, heat, or nutrient load in a water body. While each instance of each of these many land uses may have contributed only a small portion of the pollution load, taken together over many decades these pollutants have accumulated to the point that they can impact fish habitat.
With hundreds of water bodies and watersheds in California, Regional Water Quality Control Boards have begun to prioritize watersheds for funding of nonpoint source control projects. While grazing is specifically mentioned for only a few of the watersheds listed below, each of the watersheds or water bodies has one or more of the following projects or problems that can be linked to grazing as well as other land use activities:
- Projects to restore fish habitat, riparian areas, or streams restoration.
- Control or reduce erosion/sedimentation, stream temperature, nutrients, or increase dissolved oxygen.
- Animal wastes or grazing were listed as a pollution source.
Region 1 -- North Coast
- Russian/Bodega WMA
- Lost River and the Klamath River upstream of Iron Gate Dam
- Shasta River and tributaries
- Other Klamath River tributaries upstream of Scott River confluence
- Garcia River Watershed
- Humboldt Bay WMA
- Eel River WMA
Region 2 - San Francisco Bay
- Napa River
- Petaluma River
- Tomales Bay
- San Francisquito Creek
- Pescadero/Butano Creeks
- Walnut Creek
- Sonoma Creek
- Novato/Miller Creek
Region 3 - San Luis Obispo
- Salinas River
- Morro Bay
- San Lorenzo
- Pajaro River
- Santa Maria River
Region 4 - Los Angeles
- Calleguas Creek
- Ventura River Watershed
Region 5 - Central Valley
- Lower Sacramento River Watershed (Sacramento area, down stream of Keswick Reservoir, vicinity of Chico, Sutter County and Antelope area, Tehama County, Mill Creek Battle Creek, and Deer Creek).
- Cache Creek Watershed and Clear Lake
- Middle Fork/North Fork Feather River
- Pit River
- Tulare Lake (Panoche/Silver Creeks, Kings Basin: Lower Kings River, Tule Basin, Kings River, Willow Creek (including Bass Lake), and Millerton Lake).
Region 6 - Lahontan
- Lower Truckee River (downstream of Lake Tahoe)
- Upper Truckee River (Lake Tahoe Basin)
- Carson River
- Upper Owens River
- Mojave River
If you have a ranch in one of these watersheds, you need to do two things:
- Organize and participate in watershed projects, stream projects, conservancies, and coordinated resource management projects that affect your ranch. If you don't, someone else will. Your UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, USDA NRCS conservationist, or Resource Conservation District can help you find out about local watershed projects. The Cooperative Extension Rangeland Watershed Program is organizing an informational package that can help you start and manage a local watershed project. This package will be available through your farm advisor.
- Assess your own ranch for nonpoint pollution sources and write a ranch water quality management plan. As an individual, this is your opportunity to show that you understand nonpoint source pollution problems, you have identified possible sources on your ranch, and have a plan for correcting the problem. For the livestock industry to show that voluntary compliance works, large numbers of its members need to complete assessments and plans. Environmental groups and some federal regulators are betting that voluntary compliance will fail. UC Cooperative Extension, in cooperation with USDA NRCS, CARCD, and industry associations, has begun to offer local short courses where ranchers can complete a nonpoint source assessment and plan.
The California Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan (CRWQMP) provides for landowner nonpoint source self-assessments and landowner written water quality management plans. The CRWQMP was approved by the State Water Resources Control Board in July 1995. This plan, developed cooperatively by industry, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies, describes a program of voluntary compliance with the Clean Water Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and Porter-Cologne Act.
With approval of the California Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan, the SWRCB, the livestock industry, rangeland owners and managers must now implement this plan and prove that voluntary compliance is a viable alternative to regulatory prevention of nonpoint source pollution.