Yesterday we spent the afternoon fixing a government-sponsored cost-share Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) water installation at one of the properties we rent.
Darling of well-meaning environmentalists, CREP is a program to reduce livestock access in riparian areas by paying about $110 per acre for buffer strips along streams and then cost-sharing alternative water development, generally to the tune of 80/20 (government 80; landowner 20). It's the kind of program that turns environmentalists into raving crazies when proposals to cut funding occur.
In order to keep this short, I'll deal with this one particular incident. I'll deal with others in the future. For the record, I love protecting riparian areas and our family farm has been fencing out streams, springs, and creeks for decades without any government assistance whatsoever. Like so many well-intentioned things, however, the devil is in the details.
I'm Mr. Pond Builder. Remember, 500 years ago America was 8 percent water due to the millions of beaver ponds. Some 200 million beavers built dams all over the landscape, including in the arid southwest. Some beavers were as big as a volkswagon car. We don't have many beavers today, but we do have excavation equipment.
And doing the beavers one better, we don't have to dam up streams and rivers (running water), we can now throw up a berm across a valley, much higher on the landscape, and trap surface runoff. That way we don't interfere or deplete the commons; we simply create more commons. This is classic permaculture.
But government engineers that build these on-farm cost-share water development programs do not agree with this approach. The official position of the government is that ponds are attractive nuisances (children can drown in them) and biosecurity liabilities (wild ducks land on them and bring avian influenza). So ponds, the most ancient landscape hydration formula, are off the table.
Here's the design on this system we worked on yesterday. A 20-foot section of 8 inch perforated plastic pipe was placed in a stream channel (the stream is spring-fed and is narrow enough to step across). The stream water flowed into the perforations. The lower end of this perforated pipe junctions into a PVC pipe which flows into a concrete 600-gallon cistern. About 15 feet away and situated a bit higher on the terrain, another much larger (1,200 gallon?) buried concrete tank houses a pressure tank and electrical relay to the submersible pump, which is in the initial catchment cistern.
This system was probably installed 10 years ago. What happened was a flood--who knows when; we normally have at least one flood per year--washed that perforated pipe around in a U. Over time, it filled with silt and sediment and completely plugged up, precipitating our crisis yesterday when the cistern went dry pumping water to our 200-head herd of cattle there.
With shovels, boots, lots of mud and some struggle, we chased down the problem, pulled the perforated pipe out of the muck, cleaned it out, and temporarily got things flowing into the cistern. Did the government designers not understand that occasionally we have floods? This design was akin to something kindergarteners would do, building a dam in a creek, never thinking about what some future torrent might do to it. Newspapers take pictures of these projects and environmentalists give high fives over these things, but they are a joke when it comes to real long-lived landscape hydration.
This is why I tell people to never participate in these cost-share government farm programs. They're overly expensive, poorly designed, and single-use systems. Follow the beavers; they had it figured out.
Have you ever seen a beaver pond?