Grazing/Water Supply Erosion Control
Erie County, PA

Grantee: Penn Soil Resource Conservation and Development
Basin Program Funds: $15,000
Non-federal Funds: $5,000
Project Duration: 05/1997 - 12/1998
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Controlling livestock access to streams by fencing and stream crossings helps control stream bank erosion but does not address the need to water livestock. Providing adequate water away from streams sites with adequate electricity is a key concern. Ram pumps, which use falling water to push water up hill, offer a low-cost solution where falling water is available. However the Lake Erie basin is too flat to utilize ram technology. A potential solution may be solar powered pumps.

Open stream watering

Erie and Crawford counties contain all of Pennsylvania's Lake Erie watershed. Dairying is one of the principal agricultural enterprises in the drainage area and thus a major contributor to agricultural nonpoint source pollution through milk house and barnyard waste, livestock stream access, nutrients, and pesticides. Allowing cattle access to water directly in streams contributes to a significant percentage of nonpoint sources. While restricting cattle access reduces pollution, it creates a further problem of how to water the livestock, especially in areas which are not easily reached by electricity.

Hydraulic ram pumps generate power using falling water to push water uphill to a watering trough. While this has proven to be an inexpensive, and effective solution, the flat topography of the Lake Erie watershed does not lend itself to this solution. One potential solution is solar power. Contemporary systems can be installed for less than $1,500.00. They are reliable, requiring little maintenance with a relatively long life span (from 20 to 40 years) and can pump enough water for any size herd. In addition to delivering water to cattle away from sensitive areas, such as stream banks, solar pumps can also distribute water to all parts of a pasture and ensure improved forage quality, herd health, and productivity.

Penn RC&D hired a project technician/consultant who researched available solar powered equipment and conducted a search for potential participant farmers. Ten prospective farm sites were targeted and prioritized within Crawford County's Lake Erie watershed. In conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) a comprehensive barnyard management plan was developed for one volunteer farmer. The plan included a solar pump system which provided an alternative drinking water source for cattle, restored riparian areas, and limited nutrient runoff.

Solar-power pump for watering trough

The installation of a solar powered watering system was completed on the volunteer farm. The system works well in full sunlight. During cloudy weather or afternoons when the solar panel is not in direct line with the sun, the pump does not pump enough water. Also, during the 1998 drought, the source spring went dry and the system was out of operation until the water returned. An important issue, not addressed as part of this erosion control project, is water quality for the herd. Previously, with direct access to the stream, the cattle were exposed to waterborne pathogens. That possibility is now substantially curtailed, given the new source of water. Thirty farmers and elected officials toured the site during a council meeting.

Contact: Harvey Pinkerton, (814) 226-6118


Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150. Join the Friends of the Great Lakes GLIN Partner