Arkansas River Water Collaborative essential message

The Arkansas River Water Collaborative was formed by the Watershed Health Sub-Committee of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.  Information has been gathered from the public by the process of public meetings throughout the watershed. Of major concern are two issues: soil health and water quality.

The urgency of the issue is expressed in Regulation 85, an act of the Colorado Water Quality Monitoring Council.

Regulation 85
In 2012 the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission adopted Regulation 85 to address nutrient pollutant levels in rivers and lakes throughout the state, including the Arkansas. Regulation 85 requests implementation of voluntary best management practices to reduce non-point sources of nutrients before 2022 at which point there will be an evaluation of progress made and the potential need to adopt control regulations for agricultural practices.

To avoid the complications that regulation will bring to farmers, efforts are being made to introduce farming practices which will decrease the amount of selenium and nutrients going back to the river from farming. Manager Jay Winner of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is willing to help farmers with projects which encourage soil health and educators with projects which show the importance of soil health. Barry Fisher, an Indiana farmer and soil health specialist said, “Finding a farmer who is interested in building organic matter by using practices like no-till and cover crops is like finding a bank with a better rate on a Certificate of Deposit.” [quoted in USDA pamphlet, March 2015]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests five  questions farmers should ask themselves about soil health:

1. Do you build organic matter in the soil? Organic matter in the soil may be the most important indicator of a farm’s productivity.
2. Do you test the soil at least once every four years? Tests can determine how much fertilizer each field needs. If the fertility level is quite high, the farmer can save money by planting cover crops to keep nutrients in place rather than applying more nutrients that may not be needed.
3. Do you use no-till practices? A protective blanket of crop residue will conserve moisture for the crop and prevent loss of soil from wind and water erosion and carbon that could be burned off by summer heat.
4. Do you use cover crops? Cover crops provide a protective blanket throughout the winter months or fallow times. They take in solar energy and produce food for the plant and the organisms living in the root zone.
5. What can we do together to improve soil health on my land? You need to think long-term. It may take years to get the full benefits from sustainable conservation practices.

Although the concentration of the LAVWCD has been with engineering projects that will improve the quality of life and productivity of farmers, Winner believes education in better farming practices may be the more important area going forward. Mike Weber of LAVWCD is spearheading an effort to find a full-time leader for the Arkansas River Water Collaborative.