Oregon landowners hope to tell a more compelling story about their efforts to improve water quality and ag land conditions by improving their level of information.
New funding from the state legislature to the Oregon Department of Agriculture is helping increase monitoring activities that provide more data details. Better monitoring can lead to more credit for the good work landowners are doing and a better sense of what improvements are still needed, note ODA officials.
"We've heard from a variety of stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers as well as those in the environmental community, that they want to demonstrate progress in the protection of water quality and agricultural lands," says Katy Coba, ODA director.
"This additional funding will help us get there. ODA's Water Quality Program is equally anxious to put together a good story when improvements are made on the ground. We can all benefit from better monitoring, data and evaluation."
The two-pronged monitoring strategy will give the most complete picture possible, she notes.
"Monitoring gives us a way to not only determine change in water quality itself, but also change in those land conditions related to water quality," explains ODA Water Quality Program Manager Dave Wilkinson. "We often prefer monitoring land conditions because those are the actual conditions landowners can more easily see and do something about."
Many landowners do a good job making improvements to streamside areas by allow riparian vegetation to establish and flourish, which can ease erosion threats and provide shade for the stream wildlife. Others are managing livestock manure effectively, keeping fecal bacteria out of waterways.
"We already know that landowners, soil and water conservation districts, watershed councils, and many state and federal agencies have accomplished a great deal over the past 15 years," says Wilkinson. "ODA administers funding for SWCSs to work with landowners on water quality improvement projects, and we see a variety of accomplishments in the quarterly reports we receive including acres of no-tilling farming, manure storage facilities, streamside areas planted to trees, and irrigation efficiency improvements."
What is more difficult to show, he adds, is how such activities affect land conditions that lead to good water quality at the watershed or regional levels.