The University of Arizona

Sediment movement and filtration in a riparian meadow following cattle use.

R.R. Mceldowney, M. Flenniken, G.W. Frasier, M.J. Trlica, W.C. Leininger


Improper livestock grazing practices in western U.S. riparian areas may reduce the nutrient and pollutant removal function of riparian communities, resulting in degradation of surface water quality. Short duration-high intensity cattle use in 3 x 10 m plots was evaluated in a montane riparian meadow in northern Colorado to quantify livestock effects on sediment movement and filtration under simulated rainfall (approximately equal to 100 mm hour(-1)) plus overland flow (approximately equal to 25 mm hour(-1)) conditions. Four treatments: 1) control, 2) mowed to 10 cm stubble height, 3) trampled by cattle, and 4) cattle grazed plus trampled (grazed) were evaluated. Sixty kg of sediment was introduced to overland flow in each plot. Sediment movement was evaluated using sediment traps positioned in microchannels and on vegetation islands at 5 distances downslope from the upper end of the plots and by sediment front advancement. Most sediment deposition occurred within the first meter downslope from application. About 90% of the applied sediment was filtered from runoff within 10 m in the control and mowed treatments, while approximately 84 and 77% of the applied sediment was trapped in the trampled and grazed treatment plots, respectively. The primary variables that influenced sediment filtration were stem density and surface random roughness. Stem density was the most influential variable that affected sediment filtration. Cattle grazing reduced the stem density by 40%. Monitoring of stem density should aid land managers in regulating cattle use of riparian communities and facilitate the protection of surface water quality from sediment in overland flow.



filter strips;stem density;sediment deposition;particle size;mowing;riparian grasslands;overland flow;surface roughness;sediments;water erosion;ground cover;rainfall simulators;plant density;plant litter;grazing;trampling;Colorado;beef cattle

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