Written by Erin Cortus (former SDSU Extension Environmental Quality Engineer).
As of March 20, Spring is officially here. While the majority of snow may have melted in many areas, we hopefully still have spring rains in our midst! Spring rains mean runoff. Livestock yards and pastures depend on runoff to keep the animal and feeding areas dry and comfortable. However, the flow of water over the surface of a lot or pasture can pick up solid particles or dissolved nutrients and increase the risk of water pollution.
While runoff is natural, there are steps we can take to manage the amount and severity. We are especially concerned with runoff over manure-covered surfaces.
As part of a spring checklist:
- Evaluate clean water diversions around the yard. Are roof gutters functioning and directing water away from buildings or lot areas? Are berms or curbs sufficient to keep clean water separate from water flowing over manured areas? Check for ice or snow buildup in these areas.
- Evaluate runoff paths. Is runoff taking the intended path? For larger areas like lots or pasture, is there evidence of gullies forming? Is there evidence of erosion along preferential paths? Are collection and transfer points (i.e. sediment basins, pipes) allowing for sufficient flow? Have any new, unintended paths developed. Again, check for ice or snow buildup in these areas.
- Evaluate needs for the coming year. There are numerous best management practices to reduce the environmental impacts of runoff from manure-covered surfaces in lots or pastures. These practices include residue management, buffer strips, designed and managed riparian zones, terracing, contour farming, cover crops. For lot areas, where runoff is on on-going concern, manure or runoff holding impoundments may be a long-term solution. These best management practices are described in more detail in the Agricultural Research Service Publication Best Management Practices to Minimize Agricultural Phosphorus Impacts on Water Quality.
As a reminder, regulated operations are required to capture and handle (as per permit instructions) any runoff that crosses manure-covered areas.