The flow, the fence and the financing

Special to the Rappahannock News
Twelve people braved the snow and ice last Thursday, Jan. 21, for the regular monthly meeting of RappFLOW, the local environmental organization dedicated to ensuring water quality in the upper Rappahannock watershed. They no doubt hoped the weather would be more welcoming next Thursday, 5:30 p.m., Feb. 4, for the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) dinner at the Washington Fire Hall to inform local farmers about no-cost riparian fencing.

At the upcoming free dinner, a PEC spokesman said, details would be offered about fencing livestock away from streams at no cost to farmers –- to help restore water quality in the Hazel, Hughes, Rush and Thornton rivers: “With someone else picking up the tab, this is land stewardship that makes sense by keeping livestock from mudding and defecating in streams, one factor in water pollution in waterways from here to the Chesapeake Bay, while at the same time allowing for the creation of clean water sites for livestock which can lead to higher weight gain and less livestock health issues.”

Since the cost of installing permanent fencing along steams and building alternate water sources for livestock has been a major obstacle for farmers, PEC worked with its conservation partners to make the operation cost-free. The new incentives are in addition to existing government cost-share programs for agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) and will now effectively cover 100 percent of the expenses of installing riparian fencing and clean water sources.

The Krebser Fund for Rappahannock Conservation led the way to make the new incentives possible, and PEC encouraged further support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand coverage to the entire watershed area, which includes parts of Culpeper and Madison counties. To qualify for the new, cost-free riparian fencing, farmers must be enrolled in an active government conservation program through the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District or Natural Resource Conservation Service.
According to Don Loock, PEC’s Conservation Officer for Rappahannock County, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality lists a number of local waterways as impaired due to farm animal pollution and failing or improper septic systems, but “the pollution problem can be overcome.”

At last week’s RappFLOW meeting, Bev Hunter presented information about Eastern Brook Trout populations. Trout Unlimited has reported massive declines in the fish population in some areas along the East Coast. Poor land management, stream fragmentation and increase in water temperature have led to the native trout’s decline. RappFLOW’s hope is to help increase riparian buffers along local streams to help keep the water cool enough to maintain the native trout.

Mike Biniek, a Sperryville biologist and farmer (and county supervisor) who raises cattle, chickens, pigs, turkeys and vegetables at Belle Meade, said the fencing program builds a higher water table and cuts down erosion, plus improves weight gain and overall livestock health with clean water now available from mid-pasture wells.

Dale Welch, who has a beef cattle farm in Flint Hill, confirmed that the fencing program has “substantially improved the health of livestock.” Not only was their drinking water quality greatly improved, but also keeping the cattle from standing for long periods in water eases the instance of hoof rot and similar bacteria-born diseases.

Reservations are required for the Feb. 4 dinner: contact Sabrina Dohm (PEC) 540-347-2334 or
Beverly Hunter and Don Loock contributed to this article. For a competing point of view on the necessity of riparian buffers, please see the op-ed column on page A5.

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