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Cattlemen foot the bill for water study

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has partnered with Oregon State University to conduct a five to 10-year study that will increase understanding about water-related issues in arid and semiarid river systems.

“What we’re trying to do is avoid litigation against accusations that are not based on data,” said Curtis Martin, a Powder River rancher who heads the Water Resources Committee of the association.

He expects the OSU study undertaken by Dr. Carlos Ochoa to show how vegetation and current land-management practices may affect temperatures in Eastern Oregon waters. He said research may show that planting trees along an embankment is not enough to get the desired water-cooling results, particularly when these species are not native to the area and have a low survival rate.

“I think this study is important because not only ranchers, but taxpayers are spending all this money (on restoration work) and not getting the results that are anticipated,” said Kay Tiesl, executive director for the cattlemen’s association.

“It seems like a lot of the burden is being put on the landowner to prove he is innocent, which is not the way that America determined it should be.”

Maupin rancher Keith Nantz, who is seated on the cattlemen’s water committee, said the study will also look at how much water a “thirsty” tree or other vegetation pulls from the stream or river. In addition, a look will be given at how much irrigation water returns to the waterway, which affects flow volume and usage.

Another area of research will be how much sediment domestic livestock puts into waterways from ground disturbances, and how much comes from wild animals or weather events.

The cost of the research, said Tiesl, will be $40,000-60,000 per year and the Oregon Beef Council has contributed funding for the first year, which began in July. She said fundraising efforts will be undertaken to come up with the rest of the money.

“Why is it the responsibility of our ranchers and farmers to spend this much money to gather the scientific data that all of these regulations should be based on?’ asked Nantz in a rhetorical question.

Curtis said, once the study is done, the association will push to have regulators to “adapt the rules to reality.”

“We realize that we’re not on an island out here, that we’re being scrutinized and watched,” he said. “But that needs to be in the context of what is real and decisions made with good credible data.”

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A Rancher's Life is a year-long series by reporter RaeLynn Ricarte and photographer Mark B. Gibson of The Dalles Chronicle. Here are the stories so far:

A Rancher's Life and A 'big picture' outlook started the series January 25, 2014.

All in a Day's Work and Moving cows is just the beginning were published February 12, with Weathering the storms. An audio slideshow, Working cows, was also published in February.

March started with a look at wolves in two parts, Wolf trouble and Wolves on the move. It continues with Springs promise, a look at calves and spring on the ranch.

An editorial, "More defenses needed," wrapped up coverage on this issue.

May started with the story exploring the trouble faced by one ranch, whose story is told in new feature-length movie screened locally in Hood River. One family member currently lives in The Dalles, and in "A Place to call Home" she tells her story.

May also featured multiple stories addressing the issue of public grazing, an issue researched by reporter RaeLynn Ricarte for over four months. The issue is first explored in"Battle rages over grazing rights." Much of this battle has been fought in court, and "Taxpayers foot the bill of resource lawsuits" explores one aspect of this battle. Additional stories followed: Seeking balance on our public lands, A place for cattle, Activist disputes accusation of fee gouging, An embattled system,and Walden: Scrutiny need on species regulation.

The May presentation ended with an editorial expressing the need for public grazing in the western states, Resources to Thrive.

A special section, Farm and Ranch, further broadened and expanded the series in June. it is available as a .pdf document: Farm and Ranch.

As July brings hot dry weather, it's a great time to explore the impact water, and a lack of water, has on the ranch community. Water is a precious commodity in Eastern Oregon. Ditch walker Sam Cobb is in charge of how the water in water stored in Rock Creek Reservoir is distributed in the article "Ditch Walker: Water is gold, here"

In August, the second edition of Farm and Ranch explored the stories and people behind some of the brands in the region.

Water issues were further explored in August, with three-part presentation:

State and federal rules water rules impact ranchers throughout the region. Water dispute boils explores state regulations and how they impact ranch operations. A related story looks at a study launched by ranchers working with OSU to study water issues in arid and semi-arid lands.

Federal proposals to change or clarify what waters are under federal jurisdiction has many agriculturalists worried, and represents yet another clash over water.

Locally, efforts are being made to work collaboratively to improve water quality on 15-mile creek for both fish and farmers. The creek is used for irrigation.

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