You might be surprised to hear about the importance of dairy to Oregon’s economy. Milk is actually Oregon’s official beverage and the third greatest agricultural commodity in the state, with more than 350 farms and 120,000 cows. As you can see in this photo from Google Maps, Tillamook is a mainly agricultural town with many plots of land. Oregon’s dairy industry contributes more than $1 billion to the economy every year. Milk has always been a largely produced product, but specialty cheeses are gaining worldwide recognition.
You may have heard the rumor that Tillamook has more cattle than people, as it is a bustling, dairy-producing county. This goes back to European settlement when 91% of wetlands were drained for agricultural, residential, and commercial development. The dairy farms are established along eight rivers, five bays, and the ocean, which can pose a major environmental problem. Check out the screenshot from Google Maps below!
One of these problems results from grazing livestock—the production of manure and urine. Fecal bacteria can pollute streams when directly deposited by livestock or through overland flow. Direct deposit is more common and more impactful, because the soil will not filter the bacteria. Overland flow occurs when rain or snow goes beyond infiltration capacity, or the rate at which water can be absorbed by soil and drains into a body of water instead of being absorbed. The nutrients and bacteria from runoff can be harmful to wildlife and people, as it drains into the water table and can carry harmful diseases.
One solution to this problem is the effective and affordable use of water tanks, which reduces the time that livestock spend drinking in natural bodies of water by more than 90%. This will decrease how much waste is directly deposited into water and also improves the health of the livestock.
There are many more problems associated with livestock and water runoff, so it is important to learn about how this affects people and wildlife, implement prevention techniques, and practice sustainable farming.