The University of Arizona

Drought and grazing. II. Effects on runoff and water quality.

W.E. Emmerich, R.K. Heitschmidt


Understanding the interacting effects of drought and grazing on runoff, erosion, and nutrient transport is essential for improved rangeland management. Research was conducted at the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory located near Miles City, Mont. using 12, non-weighing lysimeters for 3 years. During years 1 and 3, no drought treatment was imposed. For year 2, one half of the lysimeters were covered to implement a drought treatment. The 3 grazing treatments were ungrazed, grazed during but not after drought, and grazed during and after drought. Runoff, sediment yield, and an array of nutrients in the runoff water were measured from the lysimeters. First year base line data with no grazing or drought treatments applied indicated no significant differences among lysimeters. Below normal precipitation occurred during year 2, resulting in no runoff from the drought treatment and negated the "non-drought" control. This prevented a direct assessment of the interaction among the drought and grazing treatments for this year. The drought treatment did produce significant reductions in water, sediment, and nutrient yield. No grazing impact was observed during year 2. The third year with more normal precipitation, there was a trend toward increased runoff, sediment, and nutrient yield from the second year drought treatment lysimeters. In the third year, both grazing treatments showed significantly greater runoff, sediment, and nutrient yield than the ungrazed treatment. Runoff and sediment yield tended to increase from the combination of drought and grazing treatments. The observed increases in runoff and sediment and reduced water quality from the drought and grazing treatments were measured against controls and when compared to the natural variability and water quality standards, they were concluded to be minimal.



prairies;water quality;biomass;losses from soil;drought;sediment yield;range management;seasonal variation;Montana

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