On A Mission: Clean Water

Conservation District Leaders, Local Farmers Maintain Water, Soil

Posted: November 26, 2013

Samuel Goering, owner of Home Place Dairy Inc. in Dayton, installed fences surrounding the 240-acre dairy farm’s streams in order to minimize water contamination. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)

Each day, Samuel Goering, owner of Home Place Dairy Inc. in Dayton, rises at 4 a.m. in order to feed and milk his cows — a process that must be repeated in eight hour increments.

 “It’s better for the cows to be milked regularly each day,” Goering says.

The 240-acre dairy farm is home to more than 300 animals, including 180 heifers. A large farm with a considerably high number of animals can be overwhelming to some, but not Goering, who does his best to keep his animals healthy, protect the integrity of the soil and keep the waters sanitary.

“Over the years, we’ve made improvements to our farm to protect the waterways,” explains Goering. “It’s not just one practice we’ve implemented, but a number of practices.”

One measure was the installation of a fence surrounding each of the property’s streams, which helps keep the livestock away from the waterways thus reducing the potential for hazardous pollution. Given the number of animals attracted to the streams as sources of refreshment, the undertaking is a large one.

Goering has also erected a number of troughs throughout the farm, which gives the animals access to clean drinking water. These tactics not only help keep the waterways safe, but also help to maintain water for crop production.

His efforts to contain the waterways — along with his no-till farming and manure management techniques — did not go unnoticed as Goering was recently named a recipient of the Rockingham County Clean Water Farm Award, which is given out to those who use sustainable conservation practices for the greater good.

“I was not expecting [the award], but it was certainly rewarding,” admits Goering.

Goering’s efforts exemplify a growing push to control and preserve the natural environment.

Best Management Practices

The Commonwealth of Virginia currently contains 47 districts that actively educate and assist land owners with best management practices in order to maintain a more sustainable environment. A BMP could be something as complicated as monitoring a shore line or as simple as regularly checking a septic tank.

The Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District represents the local area.

As a subdivision of state government, the SVSWCD focuses on implementing BMP’s through outreach education, managing dams and assisting farmers in finding ways to protect their land. Goals of the organizations include improving bodies of water by sustainable means and providing instructions on avoiding pollution.

“We’re after water quality improvement,” says Megen Dalton, District Manager at SVSWCD. “We focus on helping implement BMP’s, whether it is agriculturally or in an urban setting.”

Dalton explains that in urban settings, home owners may be unknowingly polluting surrounding waterways. For example, dumping liquids such as oil or antifreeze into the backyard has disturbing consequences, as the liquids are capable of seeping through the grass, influencing groundwater.

“We got the name ‘Rockingham County’ because there are so many rocks and cracks in our environment,” explains Dalton.

“So, what we do on the land affects the groundwater.”

Megan O’Gorek, Conservation Technician at SVSWCD, takes that thought a step further, adding that “The groundwater is all interconnected; some streams disappear and you’ll see them reappear a couple of miles down,” explains O’Gorek. “All of our wells are tapping into that ground water and the majority of the surrounding counties are using these wells.”

James A. Shiflet, Water Resources Planner at the Department of Environmental Quality Valley Regional Office in Harrisonburg, recently completed a 2012 report focusing on the status of the rivers and lakes in the Valley area and concluded that, of the 3,401 miles of riverine land assessed, 2,194 miles were impaired — meaning polluted in some fashion.

“The biggest impairment tends to be bacteria, due to recreational use,” explains Shiflet. “Agriculture is a contributor, as are individual septic systems; some of which are more than 20 years old and are beginning to fail. Pet waste and street runoff are also contributors.”

A common form of the street runoff to which Shiflet refers is the chemicals used during routine carwashes. In the summertime, individuals throughout the Valley area regularly wash vehicles; however, the process often includes high-powered chemical fluids, which, in turn, flow into storm drains.

“Basically, that’s like pouring chemicals straight into the creek,” says Dalton. “Kids may play in these waters, splash water in their eyes, and get bacteria in them or become infected.”

While using fertilizer to grow lush grass can be aesthetically pleasing, the process can also have harmful consequences. As Dalton explains, fertilizer may be used in excess though grass is already saturated. The extra sediment runs through the soil into the groundwater, which leads to streams and rivers.

Instead, homeowners can do a simple soil test, which will measure the amount of nutrients in the lawn.

Money Back

In a farm-dense region such as the Shenandoah Valley, agricultural BMPs prove especially important. It is not uncommon for waste from an animal to enter a body of water that is later consumed by another animal downstream.

Dalton says that animal waste found in these waterways is an issue that the organization recently addressed, though most farmers take the necessary steps to curtail the problem, as in the case of Goering and the fences.

“I don’t necessarily live on a farm,” says Dalton. “But when I turn my faucet on, the farm down the road could be affecting my water without me even knowing it.”

The district has recently taken a step towards conquering the concern by offering local farmers 100 percent funding for stream fencing, meaning that the state will reimburse farmers for money spent on proper fencing around these waterways, as well as the cost of adding a well or a pipeline, if needed.

“This is encouraging farmers to install this system,” explains Dalton. “We sit down with the farmers and come up with the plan together.”

The district has also considered the farmers who have previously installed stream-exclusion fences. These landowners may be eligible to receive a payment of $1 per linear foot, as long as the fixture permanently keeps livestock away from the waterways.

“Virginia recognizes these issues and there has been a push to get livestock out of the creeks,” says Dalton. “The big picture is that we want a healthier Chesapeake Bay.”

For more information about SVSWCD and its cost-sharing programs, call 433-2853, ext. 3. or visit svswcd.org.

Contact Matt Gonzales at (540) 574-6265 or mgonzales@dnronline.com.