Plan now for upgrades to pasture water delivery systems

Farm Forum

Managing water supply systems is a popular topic among pasture managers looking to improve or expand their grazing operations into new areas such as expiring CRP. Producers should be aware of options for assistance to ensure system installation efficiency and affordability.

The value of quality water is crucial to animal health and maintenance… especially during times of limited quantity. Natural wetlands, streams, and stock ponds can continue to be a reasonable source of water in most years, but managing these sources for rangeland/soil health, water quality, and livestock health is important. Removing livestock from these water sources can pay dividends in water quality and systems health. With today’s options for portable water handling equipment and simple solar-powered temporary electric fence, you can extend the life and quality of your ponded water simply by pumping it out to a tank. Solar float pumps or gas powered ‘trash’ pumps can offer reasonably affordable options. High volume, low pressure trash pumps can be purchased at many farm supply retailers for a few hundred dollars. Solar systems, although generally more expensive, offer portability and ease of use in remote areas. When purchasing a solar system for pond use look for high quality engineering features such as: compactness, quality float pump instead of a traditional casing pump, simple float switch systems, ease of transport, heavy-duty components, and weather proofing. You’ll need to customize the system to your needs regarding delivery rate and tank volume. There are durable tank options available with built-in float systems that can be modified to work with most delivery systems.

Most rural water districts have programs for establishing pasture water supplies. Buried lines are a popular option offering longevity and low maintenance, but producers should be aware of and plan for soil disturbance and the invasive species that can follow installation. Re-seeding and early weed management over buried lines is important for long-term pasture maintenance. There are also affordable options for

distribution of water through low-maintenance overland pipe systems and non-fixed tanks. These systems are easy to install and allow maximum flexibility for your grazing operation over time. Generally, rural water hookup expenses average from $500 to $1,500 depending on which system you are on. For buried line systems, materials and installation may run around $3/ft. For overland pipe systems, estimates are roughly $0.50/ft if self-installed. Tank prices can be highly variable depending on material and storage capacity.

There are several sources of funding support available. Funding often also includes support for overall livestock rotation systems through fencing improvements. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and SD Game, Fish, and Parks both offer grazing and water systems support, conversion of CRP to pasture, or other grazing program support that also benefit wildlife and water quality. Day County Conservation District is currently providing funding via a multi-partner grant that provides assistance for water development to 15 counties in the northeast corner of the state. NRCS also continues to support water systems development for pasture through various programs. To learn more about these funding options, contact your local offices for these organizations.

In closing, an important consideration when upgrading water systems is to avoid complacency in your pasture management. Good water delivery systems can allow you to stay on pasture longer but they won’t grow more grass… continue to pay attention to your pasture health and manage your vegetation for maximization of water capture and retention! Email me with questions at or call the Watertown office at 886-5140.