Friday, April 30, 2010

Sacramento Bee- Sierras, Cattle, and Water

The title says it all: Bee Exclusive: Livestock Waste Found to Foul Sierra Waters

Read the entire article here:

Brief version:
Robert Derlet- Director of the emergency room at UC Davis Medical Center is blaming cattle waste in water sources on people being sick and coming to the emergency room. In an article published in a peer reviewed journal- They found 15/15 sites where cattle were watering and 12/15 pack sites (those where pack stock or horses, mules, and burros were tied) to be contaminated with fecal coliforms and/or E. Coli.

"I can recall ... spots in the Sierra where tears almost want to come to your eyes, where you see cow patties right in the stream," Derlet said. "Flushing down from the Sierra, we have raw sewage."

"The overriding problem is the cattle," Derlet said. "Horses are usually along the trails and controlled by a guy who theoretically will make sure they poop away from the water."

Here is the scientific rebuttal from Drs Atwill and Tate also from UC Davis.
Proper livestock management can significantly reduce this risk, but first a few points about that risk. It has often been assumed that many pathogens shed by cattle are infectious to humans. Recent research finds this is not always the case. Several species of the parasite Cryptosporidium shed by cattle are barely infectious for humans, or not at all, and often just a few adult range cattle are carriers. Higher levels are found in young beef calves, sometimes up to 20% are carriers for a few weeks. Many types of Giardia carried by livestock are not infectious for humans. Background levels of indicators and pathogens in streams can be very low, but also quite high. Many wildlife species carry surprisingly high levels of these microbes, and make daily contributions in our watersheds.

There are many science‐based solutions and opportunities to address livestock associated risks. A grazing management tool box, if you will. For example, we can use careful placement of livestock attractants such as drinking water to move as much as 60% of cattle fecal waste away from streams. Even a few days a month spent
herding cattle away from streams will increase stream health. During summer months, almost all the C. parvum found in cattle fecal pats exposed to sunshine dies within one day due to lethal hot temperatures. Over 90% of the E. coli, C. parvum, Giardia, and Salmonella found in cattle fecal pats are not transported more than a foot during
rainfall‐runoff events. A single additional yard of rangeland soil and vegetation can often filter 30 to 90% of these microbes flowing in surface runoff. Wetlands can filter up to 90% of E. coli in runoff from grazed pastures.

My thoughts... Where do I start? This whole study is wrong in so many ways. My biggest concern is a companion paper that was published with Mike Connors California Liason for Western Watersheds Project. So, the agenda for these studies is clear- get cattle off of Federal lands. The article in the Bee went on to reference cost of grazing but only took into consideration the cost per AUM. Not that permittees also pay for fence maintenance, clear trails, help maintain a food source for America. Nope none of that was mentioned.

My second concern- The raw sewage statement. First, who drinks from creeks, lakes, or other water sources in the mountains without boiling or using some type of anti-microbial agent anyways? Secondly, wildlife do not relieve themselves in water sources? I suppose they use the outhouses set up by fish and game?

My thrid concern- Is it possible that the high levels of indicator bacteria at cattle sites are not only due to the cattle but a symbiotic relationship between wildlife and cattle concentrating animals both domestic and wild in an area? The levels of indicator bacteria were not high at backpacker sites 1/15 tested positive. I wonder how much wildlife were at these sites? You see wildlife and cattle together all the time but humans and wildlife? Nope you have to create bear world or a national park to acclimate wildlife to humans.

Fourth, I don't believe this study is unbiased. No randomization. Association with Western Watersheds. AND what does an emergency room administrator know about water quality?

Lastly, One of the comments submitted to the paper was: Cattle are a non-native ungulate species that has been destroying the environment for centuries. Hmmm... Couldn't the same be said for humans?


  1. Well said.


  2. Growing up, I lived on a feed yard. My dad was the cowboy boss. During that time, my parents wanted to become foster parents so we went thru all the interviews and checks. Well, finished everything and they checked our water. Tests came back saying our water was laced with fecal. So we were denied. I can say I drank that water every day for YEARS and never had any ill effect.

    You made some very good points. It's always easy to blame. Cattle get a very bad rep.