cows at pond

Cattle are liable to take a bite out of just about anything that looks interesting and that can mean a variety of health problems if there is debris in the pasture.

While this is not breaking news, water is incredibly important to not only agriculture, but society in general. In fact, water was identified as one of the five Grand Challenges that K-State Research and Extension programming will emphasize. Whereas our western Kansas brethren focus mainly on water quantity (or lack thereof), in eastern Kansas water quality is the emphasis.

Water quality is significant because of the very nature of water. As an ideal solvent, water dissolves soluble substances readily. This happens naturally even in undisturbed environments but the manmade impacts can be substantial. However, proper stewardship can limit the manmade influences on water quality. These practices can include the installation of a riparian buffer in fields near streams or even simply using soil tests to apply only the needed amounts of nutrients.

To understand water quality, we should first consider the Kansas Water Budget. The average annual precipitation across the state of Kansas is 27 inches (in southeast Kansas we average greater than 40 inches) which comprises more than 98 percent  of the water we receive across the state. Where does the rest come from? It’s actually streamflow from Nebraska and Colorado.

What most probably do not consider is that of the 27 inches of precipitation, 23.23 inches (86 percent) leave the state through evapotranspiration which is the combination of evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plants. Runoff takes 2.58 inches (9.5 percent) down the approximately 30,000 miles of streams throughout the state. This leaves 1.56 inches (5.8 percent) that is actually used either through ground water or surface water.

Water quality is extremely important to the runoff and water use portions of the budget. Water has been regulated in the state of Kansas since the state’s infancy back in 1868 and the water quality principles of the state are directed by the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. Simply, the Clean Water Act charges states to identify the beneficial uses of bodies of water and set quality standards for these uses.

In Kansas, the most important water quality issues are sediment, nutrients, and bacteria. One of the most important principles established was to set the total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, for streams that do not meet the baseline standards. This allowed the state to identify and prioritize waters that should be improved. In 2016, there are 500 impaired watersheds in the state that the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment monitors the TMDLs for.

One group developed to provide support for Kansans is the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy. Simply, a watershed is the area of land in which drains to the same river, stream, etc. For example, the Middle Neosho watershed covers a large portion of the Wildcat District. This particular watershed has an active WRAPS group.

Another important resource available is the Kansas Center for Agriculture Resources and the Environment whose staff includes five Watershed Specialists across the state. In southeast Kansas, our Watershed Specialist is Herschel George who can provide not only technical assistance, but may be able to find funding sources that may lower the direct cost to producers.

One option Herschel promotes on a regular basis is a watering system that limits cattle access to ponds and pumps the water to a tank. This helps extend the life of the pond and can be a great option for many producers. Also, Herschel endorses the use of temporary poultry litter storage as a way to help reduce nutrient issues that can come from stored litter.

K-State Research and Extension has a publication titled Water Quality Best Management Practices, Effectiveness, and Cost for Reducing Contaminant Losses from Cropland which outlines a broad spectrum of practices, the estimated cost of the practices, as well as the estimated beneficial impacts. Stop by your local extension office for a copy. If you have questions or would like more information, please call me at the office 620-724-8233, or email me at jcoltrain@ksu.edu, or visit the Wildcat Extension District website at www.wildcatdistrict.ksu.edu. £