The downstream and upstream pictures in this post were published by the Bay Journal in William Funk’s article “Virginia Faulted for Handling of Cattle Pollution in Shenandoah“.
Cattle Destroy Streams and the Aquatic Ecosystem.
Livestock that have access to streams and rivers pollute the water with their manure and urine. But perhaps even worse, when they access a stream and “hang out” to cool off, their cloven hooves gouge and dislodge soil from the banks of the stream causing the death of the aquatic ecosystem.
On average, a mature cow weights half a ton. Think about a herd of fifty, half-ton cows with hooves like big ice cream scoops climbing up and down a stream bank. The soil ripped out by their hooves gets in the stream and suffocates the critters that live in it. If there are cows in the stream, the water is going to be brown – like chocolate milk, because of all the dislodged soil suspended in the water.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.
Two pictures are worth two thousand words. I stood on the bank of Middle River looking downstream at a farm that allows cattle into the river and took this picture. All the stream banks are denuded.
I turned around, on the same spot and took the next picture looking upstream. The farmer of this land removed cattle from the river in 2002. Notice the banks. There is little if any exposed soil. Look again. Downstream, upstream. A stark and profound difference isn’t it?
Sediment Suffocates the Aquatic Ecosystem
Dislodged soil that enters a stream or river smothers and suffocates the aquatic ecosystem. For example, the larval stages of mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies have external gills. Sediment in the water clogs those gills causing their suffocation and death.
Fencing livestock, especially cattle out of streams and rivers is vital for a functioning aquatic ecosystem, cleaner streams and a restored Chesapeake Bay. There are many advantages for farmers as well such as healthier livestock, ease of herd movement and the elimination of calving risk areas.
There are many programs that can help do this with technical assistance and funding. Contact me or any of the organizations listed below to find out more.
Your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay Program of EPA.
© Robert Whitescarver 2017
Thanks for the great pictures. I like to share information like this to my friends and coworkers.
Thanks Rich. These pictures were taken on Middle River in Augusta County, VA. Feel free to use them.
Thank you, Bobby, for this insightful message about environmental management.
Responsible stewardship requires deliberation and a willingness to think beyond our boxes.
What it does not always require technical jargon, fancy equipment and complex decision making.
Thank you, Bobby, for your exemplary conservation leadership!
Bruce! Thanks for stopping in, posting and for your kind words.
Bobby, Definitely a good example that a picture is worth a thousand words!
Thank you Joan.
Thanks for showing the huge difference in bank erosion caused by cattle in streams and rivers.
You are welcome Jim. Thanks for stopping in.
Last evening I noticed an exciting new cattle exclusion project on the extreme upper Middle River ; don’t know if it’s CREP or some other effort, but likely an extension of your work and influence. I don’t l know the farm but it’s across from Brandenberg. Plenty of water for the cattle to drink but they can’t stand in it now and get foot rot, poop it up, tear up the banks. Some future generation will be amazed to learn we once permitted the public water supply to be abused like that — and for no good reason. Not good for the cattle or the rest of the world downstream.
You’re a warrior, Bobby.
Hey Michael, the project you describe is Jimmy Callison’s. He enrolled in the state’s SL-6 program to fence the cattle out and provide three cattle crossings. He also enrolled in the state’s FR-3 program that funded the small trees in the shelters. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Program funded the purchase and planting of 60, 1.5 inch diameter trees. Yes, I was invloved. He is now in communication with the Headwaters SWCD to do the same on the next farm downstream. Once that one is done, the FOMR think we can put some trout in Upper, upper Middle.
It is indeed ironic that Augusta County allows farmers to have livestock in the very river that they use to supply their citizens with drinking water. In my opinion, these landowners should not be receiving the benefit of land-use tax.
Thanks for your comment and for your committment to conservation.
Thanks Bobby. We see it downstream too — the James is more caramel colored than chocolate milk — thick with sediment from upstream red clay soils. I wonder how much acreage farmers lose to erosion each year?
Ann, good question. NRCS used to keep estimates of the average annual soil loss on cropland and pasture. I don’t know if they still do. I don’t think I have ever seen estimates of stream bank erosion but it definitely occurs and can be measured with simple volume calculations.
shared out to my groups
see the new post to my blog today.
Greetings from Bozeman; you might not remember me, but we overlapped when I was at JMU. I’m now working on a soils literacy project with some Montana farmers and ranchers.
Can you provide the coordinates for your photo(s)? (Perhaps private email?) I’d like to see what aerial imagery exists to run the “timeslider” in Google Earth, for example.
Because I’m always interested in teaching/learning what the return-on-investment is for specific land rehabilitation practices. For example, did it take 1, 2, 5, 10, or 15 years for the banks to recover? Are the soils up- and downstream the same soil map unit, with similar “erosion tolerance” levels? Where are the nearest USGS turbidity monitoring stations, and are those turbidities reflective of fraction of upstream reaches that exclude cows?
I guess 2 pictures are worth a thousand questions!
Thanks for your important work!
Tony, I remember you! We were supposed to introduce “Dirt the Movie” at JMU. Coordinate is 38 09 11.24 N, 79 11 55.35 W. I added the photos to googleEarth.
Same soils up and down the river, Fluvaquents, Bookwood, etc. We sample the river for E. coli there and upstream when the river enters this property.
The river started the healing process as soon as the owner fenced the cows out. He enrolled in CREP and has 100 foot buffers on both sides of the river.
The two pictures say it all! Water should go to the cattle, but not cows in the water. These
pictures shoud be posted wherever farmers go, so they can see the difference. Keeping the soil on the farm is in their best interest.
All of the information from the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts mention sediment from streams as a major contributor to slow progress. No doubt these practices occur all the way from here to the Chesapeake, but I rarely see something as starkly contrasting as your photos. Thanks.
You are indeed a warrior for the environment! Anne
Thanks for stopping in Anne. Always good to hear from you!
I wish I could get something like this accomplished on our farm on the Bullpasture River. It feeds the Cowpasture and on to the James. Jim
Jim, how can I help?
For one, I would like to fully educate myself on possible options and to know more of what others have successfully accomplished. Your excellent pictures show what I have observed all my life and always asked my family — why do we do this to the river? To the springs and seeps that feed the river? The river flow is not what it was only a few years ago. Sad to see. J
Jim, there is help. Have you looked around on my website? There are perhaps 25 testimonials under the heading “published articles”. Also, check out the “tag cloud” in the lower right corner of the home page.
I recently came across cattle grazing in a small stream in AZ and the stream is becoming heavily polluted including tape worms living in the water. Is there anything I can do? Thanks
I’m not sure, David. Probably not. Check the water quality regulations in the state.
Your pics say it all. I’m doing a PP presentation on the Upper White River (Indiana) Watershed and need photos that are not local. It seems people are ok with doing this to waterways but don’t like having it pointed out. LOL! I’m requesting permission to use your photos above, with your comments and copyright attached.
Greg, thanks for reaching out to me. You have my permission to use the photos. Good luck with your presentation.
Have a neighbor who is about to put cattle on his property that the cattle have access to a spring and a creek that runs through my property. He also has emptied his camper sewage into the creek and killed off all aquatic life inside the creek, what can I do?
William, I am so sorry this is happening to your creek. What state do you live in? In Virginia, we have an Ag stewardship act that has a hotline to call if there is a violation of sound stewardship. Here is a link to the program and contact information.
Thanks I live in Lenoir City Tn. I will look into the info.
Good luck, William.