Rangelands and Grazing
Grazing activities can adversely impact water quality and impair beneficial uses by contributing sediment, nutrients, and pathogens to a surface water. Unlike point sources of pollution that come from a discrete location (discharge pipe), Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution comes from many diffuse sources, including runoff from grazing and rangelands.
Grazing lands comprise approximately 75% of the agricultural acres in the Lahontan Region. Due to the vast and varied areas covered by grazing throughout the region, there is not one management strategy that fits all. Beginning in late 2022, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) staff will begin working on a Regional Grazing Strategy that will provide an inventory of grazing operations within the region and recommend approaches to address grazing-related impacts on water quality.
The Water Board can regulate NPS pollution by issuing Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs), Waivers of Waste Discharge Requirements (Waivers), and water quality prohibitions. WDRs and Waivers may contain special requirements that include preparing and submitting an Allotment Management Plan or an Individual Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan. Additionally, long-term vision plans that rely on a voluntary approach to water quality improvement are also being utilized within the Lahontan Region to address watersheds impacted by pollutants associated with grazing.
Regional Grazing Efforts
To protect water quality from adverse impacts from grazing, the Water Board adopted its first conditional Waiver for grazing operations in the East Walker River Watershed (focusing on Bridgeport Valley and tributaries) (Bridgeport Grazing Waiver) in 2007 with subsequent renewals in 2012 and 2017. A renewed Bridgeport Grazing Waiver will be presented for Water Board consideration at the March 2023 Board Meeting. Water Board staff will focus on updating the Bridgeport Grazing Waiver to continue progress toward achieving indicator bacteria water quality objectives. Staff will explore regulatory or other actions in other watersheds where sampling data indicates bacteria or nutrient levels exceed water quality objectives, such as the Eagle Lake watershed in Lassen County.
In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced a new collaborative framework for implementing the CWA Section 303(d) program called the Long-Term Vision for Assessment, Restoration, and Protection under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) Program (The Vision). The Vision describes a watershed-wide plan focused on improving water quality and provides a flexible framework with which to attain water quality restoration and protection. In 2015, the Water Board identified Bishop Creek and the West Fork Carson River as the two “Vision Watersheds” to be addressed. Both surface waters are impacted by discharges of bacteria associated with grazing operations occurring within each watershed area.
At its September 2023 Water Board Meeting, the Water Board adopted Resolution No. R6T-2022-0047 supporting the Bishop Vision Plan. The Bishop Creek Vision Plan includes an implementation timeline and outline for adaptive management. The Vision Plan for the West Fork Carson River is currently under development and planned to go before the Lahontan Water Board for its consideration during the summer of 2023.
- California Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan (7/95)
As integrated into the NPS program, this document addressed water quality impacts on all non-federal rangelands, pasture, and other grazed lands in California, including private lands and public lands not owned by the federal government.
- Bacteria Monitoring in the Eastern Sierra Nevada - Summary of Results for 2011 (3/12)
Staff report containing results of data collection for fecal coliform in the Lahontan Region east of the Sierra Nevada range.
- Renewed 2017 Bridgeport Grazing Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements
- Bridgeport Grazing Waiver Status Update (3/2022)
- Bishop Creek Indicator Bacteria Vision Project
- West Fork Carson Multiple Pollutants Vision Project
Mo Loden, Environmental Scientist
Nonpoint Source Unit