L & L Johnson WRP Wetland Restoration
A Livestock Watering Solution on the L&L Johnson WRP
Lavern Johnson enrolled his property with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in 2005. A wetland restoration was completed at that time. Lavern understood that grazing could be an effective tool to maintain and enhance the wetland. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed a grazing management plan and the WRP was surrounded by a wildlife-friendly perimeter fence. Grazing within the easement encouraged a diverse array of native wetland and upland plants and assisted in the reduction of invasive species (e.g., reed canary grass).
Unfortunately, livestock watering facilities were not constructed along with the fence. Grazing management was implemented on the easement for years, but cattle either had to depend on natural (ephemeral) water sources, or have water hauled for them. In late 2019, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) reached out to Lavern and several other conservation easement landowners to inquire if they had any interest in grazing infrastructure. Funding was available to reimburse landowners for 85% of any new grazing infrastructure constructed on conservation easements with the Rainwater Basin. Lavern replied that he was interested in adding livestock watering facilities to his easement to make grazing the site much more practical. An agreement was drafted in February 2020 between Lavern, the RWBJV, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Very sadly, Lavern passed away before the project got underway. His son, Tim Johnson, took over as Vice President of L&L Johnson Farms and worked with the RWBJV to move forward with the project in 2021.
Most RWBJV projects involve a solar well, but Lavern and Tim had requested an electric well. So, in addition to finding a location out of the hydric footprint and finding a location more than 600ft from any existing irrigation wells, the new well site also had to be easily accessible for an existing source of electricity. Southern Public Power was contacted to request that they provide new stock pump service to the site via the closest power pole (located near the northeast corner of the easement. Tim had the decision of boring under the road to access that pole or setting up a new meter pole on his side of the road. He chose to bore under the road. Since the stock pump service and boring were necessary for providing water to the cattle, RWBJV/NGPC/USFWS paid for 85% of these costs, just as they would pay for 85% of the well and tanks. The RWBJV solicited contractor bids for the boring, as well as the new electric well and livestock watering tanks.
This was a unique project in that the easement itself is a rather unusual shape and consists of a very high percentage of wetland soils. The new well and livestock watering tanks needed to be located outside of the hydric footprint. Because a large wetland can separate the property into essentially different grazing paddocks at times, it was important to have different watering tank locations so cattle could always access water. As you can see in the attached project map, the solution was to install an underground pipeline to carry water from the well site to the northwest corner of the easement. This pipeline carried water across Tim’s existing upland crop field and allowed him to provide water at a livestock watering tank in the northeast corner of his easement, as well as the northwest corner of his easement. Construction of the underground pipeline had to be wait until after winter wheat was harvested in July 2021.
By December 2021, each of the project elements had been completed. While this certainly wasn’t a typical project with the electric well, underground pipeline, and separate livestock watering tanks, it was a good fit for this particular landowner and his site. Ultimately, we want to help landowners manage their wetlands as effectively as possible, so we are happy to tailor grazing infrastructure needs to an individual property. We are happy to assist landowners in finding solutions that will benefit both their farming operation, AND wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds and other native species.