By Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
Tobermory – A community group in the Bruce Peninsula knows poop just doesn’t run downhill, it flows downstream too. That’s why local farmers have been working alongside the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association (BPBA) to provide new watering systems for cattle on pastures to keep the animals from drinking and walking in waterways.
With the goal to improve water quality for themselves and their neighbours downstream, the BPBA’s Six Streams Initiative focuses on addressing three sources of water pollution in their area – cattle drinking in waterways, soil erosion and underperforming septic systems.
The project, funded jointly by federal and provincial sources, is aimed at improving water quality in local freshwater streams of the Bruce Peninsula that flow into Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.
“We’ve had tremendous success working with local farmers on this project, water quality is measured regularly, and we’re seeing improvements,” says Elizabeth Thorn, BPBA Chair.
Since 2013, the Six Streams Initiative has worked with local farmers to install 47 alternative watering systems for cattle, build 7.4 km of fencing along water courses, and prevent 3,340 cattle from drinking in waterways. Thorn says annual phosphorus levels have already been reduced by three quarters of a tonne, based on a formula developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Excess phosphorus in waterways and lakes cause algae growth, creating problems with aquatic habitat. Phosphorus, often found in soil, enters water sources through soil erosion from fields and soil disturbed by cattle along waterways.
Excess soil in waterways also causes turbidity, clouding the water and affecting aquatic life by blocking sunlight and covering spawning beds. Nitrates from soil, fertilizers and manure can also contaminate waterways and even enter directly into the ground water.
John Rodgers, a BPBA director, says farmers who have fenced their cattle from waterways and are now using the alternative watering systems are reporting healthier animals. Rodgers attributes improved animal health to cleaner water from the innovative solar-powered watering systems that provide cattle with clean, fresh water on demand.
“Fencing cattle from waterways eliminates many obvious causes of water pollution,” says Thorn, who notes other projects for cleaner water are also underway.
New water tests, for example, will identify the presence of caffeine.
“Cattle don’t drink coffee, so we know that caffeine in our waterways points to underperforming septic systems,” she says.
Funding for BPBA and the Six Streams Initiative has been provided in part by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Environment Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Lake Huron Georgian Bay Framework for Community Action.