WaterQuality

New NARS Communication Tool

CTIC is leading an effort to highlight farmers and other landowners who are helping improve water quality and habitat around the country. Working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds (OWOW) and Office of Research and Development (ORD), we are tapping into the outstanding body of research on water quality found in EPA's National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) to identify key challenges those farmers and landowners are facing and what farmers are doing closer to home.
 
Through articles, videos and other information, we hope to inspire and inform landowners interested in helping address water quality issues, and show their neighbors steps that these farmers are taking to protect and improve our nation's natural resources.
 
Below is the first article in our series, about dairy farmers in northwest Washington.
 
 

Whatcom County Dairy Farmers Tackle Water Quality Challenges

Using an innovative online tool to schedule late winter and early spring manure applications, Terry and Troy Lenssen of Lenssen Dairy in Lynden, Washington, can give soil microbes a chance to convert slurry nutrients into plant-available forms before spring growth starts in earnest, while also protecting local waterways from runoff of nutrients and bacteria. The Application Risk Management (ARM) tool developed by the Whatcom Conservation District uses a complex formula to analyze local weather forecasts, soil type, crop density, water table depth and other variables to determine whether the risks of runoff or leaching are low enough to permit a manure application.

 
ARM protects more than the creek and the commercial shellfish beds downstream—it protects the Lenssens’ bottom line.
 
“We got better yields on grass by at least 1.5 tons per acre on fields we were going out on earlier,” said Terry Lenssen.
 
To qualify to use ARM, the Lenssens worked with district staff to conduct a risk analysis, update their state-mandated nutrient management plan, and establish a monitoring program with sampling wells at one-, two- and three-foot depths. The monitoring wells indicated that using the tool helped the brothers reduce nitrate leaching, says Lenssen.
 
The Lenssens’ 260 acres of forage crops utilize the nutrients from three to four applications of manure per year. Heavy growth and mild winter weather generally yield five cuttings per year, cycling nutrients back to their 710 cows.
 
The brothers also practice “relay cropping.” As they cultivate 270 acres of corn ground in early summer, they blow on 30 to 50 pounds of grass seed per acre. After the corn is harvested, a lush cover crop is already in place to protect soil from erosion, capture nutrients in the soil, and filter sediment from stormwater. The brothers apply manure, harvest the grass for forage in the spring, then plant corn again.
“It’s usually winter Italian ryegrass or cereal rye,” said Lenssen. “They grow well over the winter, take manure in the spring, and they’re good feed.”
 
The Lenssens are not alone in their concern about water quality issues, said Dr. Steve Paulsen of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon. Paulsen works on EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS), which assesses the quality of U.S. streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters.
 
Paulsen noted that the 2016 NARS report shows 45 percent of America’s rivers and streams contain excess nutrients; in the Pacific Northwest, 31 percent of the rivers and streams are high in phosphorous and just 12 percent have excess nitrogen. Meanwhile, approximately 23 percent of the nation’s rivers and streams—including eight percent in the West—exceed thresholds for enteroccocal bacteria, which include E. coli.
 
“It’s exciting to see that farmers like the Lenssens are finding protection of water quality is a big plus for their operations,” Paulsen said. “As more and more farmers discover this and apply innovative strategies, we expect to see the pollution numbers found in the national surveys improve.”
 
Click here to download a copy of the article as it appeared in Capital Press.

 

 
 

Key Practices
Terry and Troy Lenssen of Lenssen Dairy in Lynden, Washington, safeguard water quality in a variety of ways, including:

The Application Risk Management tool from Whatcom Conservation District, which puts their information through an algorithm to determine the risk of a manure application during the wet winter or early spring.

Risk analysis, conducted with their local conservation district.

“Relay cropping,” 30 to 50 pounds of Italian ryegrass or cereal rye blown on when they cultivate corn. By the time the silage is cut, a lush grass stand is in place to sequester excess nutrients and protect the field from runoff.


Ecological Challenges
Farmers in Washington’s Whatcom County are engaged in a wide range of water quality improvement projects. TMDLs (total maximum daily loads) in local waterways cover fecal coliform, ammonia-nitrogen, biochemical oxygen demand, chlorine and temperature.

The presence of commercial shellfish beds not far from the mouth of the Nooksack River puts added pressure on farmers and shellfish harvesters to work together on water quality improvements.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) program found that 45% of America’s river and stream miles are impaired by excess nutrients and 23%—including 8% of the West’s river and stream length—exceed thresholds for enterocci, bacteria that include coliforms such as E. coli. Click here to read EPA’s 2016 report.


Learn More About Water Quality
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Rivers and Streams Assessment provides insight into the ecological condition of the nation’s streams and rivers, and the key stressors that affect them. You can find the report and dig into the data yourself here.