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Water Quality in Oak Rangelands

Water quality, especially non point source pollution, is a major concern in the 7.5 million acres of oak woodlands in California. Over 80% of these woodlands are privately owned. Some of the major uses of oak woodlands are for grazing, agriculture, firewood production, and recreation. Pollutants of major concern in the oak woodlands include sediment, nutrients, pathogens,and temperature.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Coast Region#3, recently released its preliminary 1998 triennial review priority list. Fifty-seven of the 128 priority tasks listed are to develop Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards for many of the streams and rivers in the central coast region of California. Alison Jones of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Coast Region #3 says “A TMDL is a process of assessing conditions and describing problems, setting goals, proposing implementation measures, developing a timeline for implementation, identifying responsible parties, and developing a monitoring strategy. The potential exists for TMDLs to be developed by watershed groups of landowners as part of voluntary pollution control efforts.”

In addition, Jones indicates that “To bring water bodies into compliance with Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, regulatory or voluntary measures may be initiated. If voluntary efforts ultimately can demonstrate improvements in water quality, no need for regulatory involvement may be required. In addition, water bodies may be removed from the 303(d) list if voluntary efforts demonstrate that water quality standards are attained.”

University of California Cooperative Extension and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) are very concerned about non point source water quality issues faced by ranchers and private landowners. Melvin George,Cooperative Extension Specialist at UC Davis, and Leonard Jolly, NRCS State Range Conservationist at UC Davis, headed the development of the Rangeland Water Quality Short Course. This short course, a voluntary, statewide program conducted by local UC Cooperative Extension and the NRCS personnel, helps landowners to develop a plan for their own ranch that identifies and addresses water quality issues. Each short course takes a minimum of 5, three-hour sessions, and a half-day field visit. Participants complete a water quality assessment of their ranch, develop a ranch water quality draft plan, develop a monitoring program for their ranch, and complete a Letter of Intent.

Landowners completing the course receive a certificate documenting their training. To date, 19 short courses have been given statewide. As of the end of 1997, 450,000 acres have been placed under ranch plans throughout the state. Twenty additional short courses are planned for 1998. You can contact your local UC Cooperative Extension Office, or USDA NRCS office to obtain information about when and where these short courses will be held.

Larsen, Royce. Oaks ‘n’ Folks – Volume 13, Issue 2- August. 1998

prepared and edited by Richard B. Standiford