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Creating a Reliable Water Supply in Nelson County

In 2012, severe drought conditions that dried up stock dams in North Dakota’s Nelson County pushed many livestock owners to seek help from their Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Loretta Sorensen writes from Yankton, S.D.


Nelson County District Conservationist DeAnn Galde helped Nelson County beef producers John Bondy and Terry Ellingson explore their options for developing a cost effective and efficient way to water their livestock. Both elected to work through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program to pipe rural water to their livestock tanks.

livestock tank

Bondy farms with his brother Jaime in northeastern Nelson County where the two raise 110 Red Angus cow/calf pairs, corn, soybeans, wheat and canola. Their mostly flat, slightly rolling grazing land featured one dugout in the northwestern corner and a shallow drainage ditch that sometimes holds water.

In recent years, when rain runoff was scarce and summer temperatures soared, the Bondy’s hauled water to the cattle on a daily basis.

“That’s very time consuming,” John Bondy says. “There have been fairly long periods when we had no other choice.”

Ellingson -- who raises corn for silage, soybeans wheat, barley, canola, and pinto beans in addition to Simmentals -- south of Dahlen, N.D., found himself in a similar quandary, hauling water when stock dams were low or water quality deteriorated.

“We clean our dams out every so often, too, because they silt in over time,” Ellingson says. “When water is stagnant too long, it’s not healthy for livestock.”

Options Galde presented to Bondy and Ellingson included a well and tank system, additional dugouts and piping in rural water.

“Initially John and Jaime thought digging two new dugouts and splitting their pasture in two was their best option,” Galde says. “After more consideration they decided piping fresh water in was most cost effective.”

“We couldn’t get a well driller to come and install a new well, so we changed our plan,” John Bondy says.

The Bondy’s now have a dugout on the north side of their pasture and a water tank on the south side so cattle have some options during favorable weather conditions.

“Terry, like the Bondy’s, had an alternative water sources that was subject to the amount of spring run-off and summer moisture,” Galde says. “Terry and I discussed digging an additional dugout or a well, but Terry felt fresh water was the best option for his cattle.”

Since rural water hookups ran alongside both Bondy and Ellingson’s pastures, the process for bringing water into the pastures was fairly simple.

“DeAnn’s assistance was very helpful in helping determine what type water set up worked for our operation,” Bondy says. “They helped us design the piping system and set up a tank post system that keeps cattle out of the water and keeps them from crowding each other when they drink.”

Ellingson installed a water hydrant and tire tanks with floats.

“We installed the piping in fall of 2017 and will use it for the first time over the summer in 2018,” Ellingson says. “We’ve never lost any cattle due to water quality issues, but having this resource brings a lot of peace of mind.”

The NRCS EQIP program provides agricultural producers with financial resources and one-on-one help in planning and implementing conservation practices such as wells, pipelines, tanks, fencing, etc.

“Each conservation practice has a payment rate based on the average cost to implement the practice,” Galde says.

Each NRCS county is part of a Local Work Group and receives funding based on the EQIP annual budget. Applications are ranked and funded in accordance with budget resources.

“If your application is funded, NRCS will offer you an EQIP contract to receive financial assistance with your project,” Galde says.

To apply for EQIP funding, agricultural producers should visit the local NRCS office where their land is administered to complete an application and obtain technical assistance with conservation planning.

Though it will take some time, Bondy expects the new water resource to enhance his bottom line both through improved health and overall calf quality.

“Healthier cows may produce heavier calves and we are likely to save money on health issues like foot rot by keeping cattle out of water holes,” Bondy says.

Ellingson isn’t overly concerned about recouping his capital investment.

“I see this as more of an insurance policy, knowing I’ll have a reliable water source regardless of weather conditions,” Ellingson says.