Hero Image

Work to keep cattle away from creeks seeks to improve water quality in West Marin

Marin Independent Journal
Marin IJ

The Point Reyes National Seashore and West Marin ranchers are joining forces to build fences, crossings and other projects to keep cattle away from creeks in an effort to improve water quality.

Heavy winter rains sometimes force pollutants — including animal waste and sediment — into creeks that flow into Tomales Bay and other areas. That muddies water and can send pathogen counts skyrocketing above state standards, hurting water quality and forcing closure of shellfish operations.

Species such as coho salmon, steelhead trout and freshwater shrimp, along with harbor seals, brown pelicans, red-legged frogs and snowy plovers, thrive in the West Marin watershed and are affected by water quality.

By keeping cattle away from waterways near Tomales Bay, above Duxbury Reef in Bolinas and the Point Reyes Headlands, officials hope to see water quality improve.

"There will be projects on ranches that have grazing cattle," said John Dell'Osso, spokesman for the Point Reyes National Seashore. "Lots of it will be fencing to keep cattle out of creeks, some of which have coho salmon and steelhead trout, both of which are listed species. It's a new effort to improve water quality."

In addition to addressing water quality, the projects will provide a benefit to ranchers by providing cleaner, more consistent drinking water for their cattle.

"Any project we can do to improve water quality and decrease soil erosion is a good one,"

said cattle rancher Ted McIsaac, who is part of the program.

Lagunitas Creek, which has endangered coho salmon, runs through his land in Tocaloma. This is not the first project he has done.

"We have been putting up fencing for 25 years, we have miles and miles of fencing," he said.

The work also supports the Point Reyes National Seashore's goals of maintaining or improving habitat for protecting species, reducing soil erosion associated with ranching activities, improving riparian and wetland habitats and improving rangeland health, Dell'Osso said.

The projects have a water quality monitoring component. This past winter water samples were taken to create a baseline. Water samples will be taken again in the winter in 2013 to determine if the work improved water quality.

The projects will occur at seven ranches within Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Construction is scheduled to begin this month and will continue in phases through fall of 2013.

Ultimately, officials believe the work should improve water quality for other uses, such as swimming and fisheries. Funding for the work comes from grants from the state Water Resources Control Board and Proposition 84, the state's Clean Water Drinking Act, passed by voters in 2006.

"Maintaining water quality is absolutely essential," said Stefan Parnay, Marin County's deputy agriculture commissioner, whose office works with ranchers in West Marin. "It's critical for the environment and for ranchers."

By Mark Prado