Water quality and livestock management
Water quality on wildlands is driven by vegetation at the watershed scale as well as the individual plant scale. Grazing animals may be a primary influence of vegetation both at the water’s edge, in a large riparian zone, and on uplands adjacent to surface water. Managing domestic grazing animals in a way that protects vegetation and, therefore, riparian attributes and processes is a high priority. Washington State University Extension has conducted outreach with ranchers, landowners, public land agencies, and natural resource professionals for ten years to help land managers of all kinds learn about ecological interactions and practices that will maintain clean water, open space, wildlife habitat, and grazable forage.
Livestock grazing activities and facilities may positively or negatively affect water quality in streams. The educational films linked above will assist livestock farmers and land managers in protecting or improving water quality.
The keys to protecting water quality are maintaining healthy vegetation near a stream and on adjacent uplands and preventing significant discharge of manure into surface water. This document provides explanation of the relationships among livestock grazing effects, riparian condition, and surface water quality and helps farmers determine the relative risk of negatively affecting water quality.