Study shows some salinity levels in northwestern South Dakota water are lethal for livestock

ranch water
ranch water(Aleah Burggraff)
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 11:36 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - New results from an ongoing study show salinity levels in northwestern South Dakota water are not getting any better.

“The results we’re seeing have gotten worse over the course of the summer,” said a Ph.D. student from the School of Mines, Patrick Kozak.

In some reservoirs, researchers say it’s lethal for animals to drink, a concern for ranchers.

“They were noticing these areas of salt encrust, or white areas, out in the soles and trying to figure out where they were coming from,” said Kozak referring to the Bureau of Land Management after they approached the school 3 years ago to help figure out what was going on with water quality in northwestern South Dakota.

“To me, the best of the research that we can do is beneficial to the students and the local community,” said Associate Professor for the School of Mines, Liza Kunza.

Stock dam basins are used to catch precipitation runoff from snow and heavy rainfall and are natural resources ranchers use to keep their cattle hydrated.

“It’s very important. Obviously, cattle need feed and cattle need water, along with shelter and protection so it’s one of the principal things. On a summer day, a cow, calf pair will drink 20-25 gallons of water a day. We’re talking a lot of water,” said Eric Jennings, President of South Dakota Cattlemen Association.

Dealing with salt that comes from runoff isn’t new territory for ranchers but on dry years like this, it’s concerning.

Less rainfall means the water isn’t diluted and the salt becomes too potent.

“So, the drought has exacerbated what we would naturally see in a non-dry year and it’s very evident this year,” said Kozak.

If you’re a rancher and you identify you have toxic water, Jennings said you have several options.

“The first is just removing those cattle from that pasture, but on a year like this, we’re already short on grass and other sources of feed so we need to make use of what feed we do have. You could hall water in. That gets to be very costly with fuel and equipment and it takes a lot of time,” said Jennings.

He also stated cattle are pretty good at acknowledging if their water source is bad, but for ranchers to be aware as the South Dakota Mines research is ongoing.

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