The Satisfying Sound of Clean Water

Author: Ellen Hammond, Water Quality Specialist, Oregon Department of Agriculture

Publish Date: Summer 2008

Ahhhh, it’s summer and irrigation water is flowing through your property. It looks and sounds peaceful. It helps keep your pasture green and waters your horses. But is it clean? Is it safe for kids to play in? Is it healthy for your sheep to drink? Is it carrying manure that nurtures the algae in your pond? Are your cows trampling down the banks? Is the water carrying dirt that clogs your neighbor’s irrigation pump? Is the condition of the water or ditch causing problems for your irrigation district? Are you inadvertently contributing pollutants to a nearby stream?


Water can have different effects depending on where it goes. Does the irrigation water:


What’s in the water can have unintended consequences for people and fish.Excess soil

Excess manure or fertilizer

Excess bacteria

Algae Growth  Excess algae growth due to nutrients in water Photo provided by Ellen Hammond


Being a good steward is very important, to you and to your neighbors. Losing topsoil reduces productivity, and lost productivity costs money. Also, who wants to harm people with bacteria or nitrates? Who wants livestock to drink water containing bacteria or algae? Who wants to degrade fish habitat with silt or excess algae?

Keeping water from harming humans or fish is the law. Oregon State Law states no person shall:

Oregon requires landowners to prevent and control water pollution from their agricultural activities. This law is enforced by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Unrestricted livestock access to surface water creates poor bank structure. Photo provided by Ellen Hammond


Making management changes is easy and benefits both your health and the environment.


Landowners can contact the following for help with evaluating their effect on canal or ditch water and making necessary changes:

  • stay on your property?
  • continue to a neighbor’s property?
  • flow to a stream? 
    • clogs irrigation equipment
    • fills ponds and ditches
    • silts in fish habitat
    • creates algae in ponds and streams
    • contaminates groundwater
    • are unsafe for human contact
    • contaminate groundwater
    • pollute any water, including wells, ditches, and streams
    • place wastes such as soil and manure where they are likely to enter water
    • violate water quality standards 
    • Keep soil on the land and nutrients on site:
      • Prevent erosion in adjacent fields by maintaining high quality pastures
      • Don’t over-irrigate 
      • Maintain a grassy buffer along ditches and canals to filter potential pollutants out of runoff from fields
    • Keep manure out of ditches and canals:
      • Provide alternate drinking water source
      • Clean manure out of ditches before water is delivered
      • Pile manure away from canals and ditches
      • Fence livestock out of canals and ditches
      • Pipe ditches running through pastures
    • Reduce amount of runoff
      • Schedule water applications and use appropriate equipment for crop needs
    • Reduce soil in irrigation water
      • Maintain vegetation on ditch banks to stabilize the banks and filter soil and fertilizer out of irrigation runoff
      • Fence livestock out of canals and ditches
      • Pipe or line ditches
    • Reuse irrigation water
      • Collect in a pond, pump out, and use for irrigation
    • Apply fertilizer based on crop needs, soil tests, irrigation schedule, and weather 
    • Soil & Water Conservation District 
    • OSU Extension Service  
    • Oregon Department of Agriculture- WQ Program (503) 986-4700
    • Your irrigation district