I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this photo. Look closely- what do you see? I see a cow standing on crushed rock pushing a nose pump. I also see a fence, a stream, and hundreds of blue tubes protecting tree seedlings. There’s no mud or manure, and instead, there’s a nice firm platform for cattle to stand on, which prevents mud and manure from flowing into the stream.
Stan and Betty Honrud have seen a lot of changes since 1942, when they began cattle ranching 60 acres along the South Fork of Dakota Creek, near Custer, WA. The landscape near their farm has changed, and the changes make life difficult for farmers and for the coho, steelhead, chum, cutthroat, and a remnant run of fall Chinook that call this watershed home. Besides the fact that lots more people live in the watershed, many creek channels have been straightened to increase drainage, and riparian areas have been eliminated or impacted by farming and ranching.
In close proximity to the Honrud’s farm, several reaches of Dakota Creek are polluted with high levels of fecal coliform and low levels of dissolved oxygen, and are currently listed on the Department of Ecology’s 303(d) list of polluted waters. Dakota Creek flows to Drayton Harbor, an important shellfish harvesting area for recreational, tribal, and commercial uses. Shellfish harvesting has been prohibited in recent times due to fecal coliform pollution, but is improving, and is currently listed as conditionally approved.
Whatcom Conservation District staff approached Stan and Betty with a proposal to enter into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in 2007. CREP is a program that pays property owners to plant native trees and shrubs along streams that are important fish habitat. The Honruds were slow to sign up, but they stepped up to the plate. Not only did the Honruds sign up for planting trees and shrubs – they agreed to reestablishment of 2,200 feet of stream meander, 17.5 acres of riparian forest buffer, 6,546 feet of fencing, and two of these fabulous off channel watering facilities with cattle nose pumps.
Nose pumps are simple pumps that provide water when pushed by cattle noses. When the cow pushes on a plastic diaphragm, about a quart of water is pumped into a small drinking bowl. While there are limitations to these pumps, such as the amount of animals that can receive water at one time, there are a lot of advantages to water quality. Advantages include reduced stream bank damage, reduced erosion and sedimentation, improved riparian areas along streams, increased animal safety, and reduced travel distances for animals to drink. But the best news is this: CREP will pay for these nose pumps, there are lots of sites where these would work, and the Whatcom County Conservation District is eager to work with you on installing them.
We applaud the efforts of Stan, Betty, and the Whatcom Conservation District to protect water quality. Stan approved this article, and invited me out to his farm to see these improvements, which I'm planning to do.
Photo Credit: Wayne Chaudiere, Whatcom Conservation District