By Gene Surber and Sandy Gagnon


"Divert "clean" water around areas with pollutants.  Use berms, grassed waterways, underground pipelines, or other methods."


Prevent Erosion

  • Keep areas well vegetated and restore bare areas with vegetation.  Plant roots, especially those of grasses, hold soil in place and help water infiltrate into the ground rather than run off.  Vegetation also dissipates the force of rainwater hitting the ground, which detaches soil particles.

  • Avoid concentrating water.  Concentrated runoff can be highly erosive.  Try to disperse runoff by spreading it out in a thin, shallow "sheet".  Areas to watch are roads, roofs, compacted soil, and other impermeable surfaces that shed water quickly and increase the amount and velocity of runoff.

  • Control horse access and human activities in vulnerable areas such as wetlands, creek banks, meadows and steep hillsides.  Limit access, especially during wet periods.

  • Manage pastures to prevent heavy grazing.  Avoid soil compaction and excessive removal of vegetation by timing the use of pastures and controlling the numbers of horses.  Rotate pastures to allow them to rest from grazing, to allow grasses to regrow and mature so they will reseed.

  • Use filter strips and riparian buffers near creeks.  Maintain a strip of dense grass downslope of bare areas such as paddocks and turnouts to help trap sediment.  Riparian buffers provide valuable wildlife habitat and should contain a variety of plants including sedges, rushes, grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees, but not all depending on the site.

  • Keep creek banks vegetated to hold soil in place, trap sediment, and provide valuable wildlife habitat.  Sedges, rushes and grasses have fibrous roots that hold the soil in place.  A good indicator of root mass in grasses is the above ground growth generally equals the below ground root system.  Shrubs and trees have deeper roots that are either fibrous and taproots that will anchor the soil in place.

  • Install kick boards or lay railroad ties or telephone poles around arena perimeters.  These will help hold footing material in place and keep it from washing away.

  • Properly construct and maintain roads, trails and parking lots.  Protect earthen surfaces and drainage ditches from erosion by using properly designed drainage systems including diversions and culverts.   Use appropriate surfacing materials and techniques.

  • Use proper construction techniques.  Revegetate areas disturbed by construction.  During construction install and maintain silt fences or straw bale sediment barriers to trap sediment and slow the movement of water. 

Keep Clean Water Clean

  • Divert "clean" water around areas with pollutants.  Use berms, grassed waterways, underground pipelines, or other methods.  Consider where water will be diverted to, and make sure you do not cause new problems.

  • Locate buildings and confinement areas away from creeks, steep slopes and floodplains.

  • Minimize disturbance to wetlands, riparian areas and meadows.

  • Limit impacts of grading, runoff from roofs and other impermeable surfaces.

  • Maintain vegetation and replant bare areas.

  • Control potential runoff from water troughs.

Managed "Polluted" Water

  • Keep the size of intensively used areas small to help reduce the volume of polluted water.

  • Manage Manure.  Remove manure regularly- daily is best.  Direct runoff away from the manure storage area.

  • Use filter strips to trap sediment and manure that washes off high-use areas.

  • Maintain soil moisture during the dry season by sprinkling with water to enhance bacterial decomposition of nutrients.  When soil moisture is maintained in arenas, paddocks, feeding areas and even pastures, the natural breakdown of urea will occur.  If areas are maintained as absolutely dry, this discourages the natural process.

  • A waste pond can be designed to store water for safe distribution at a later time.


*Natural Resources and Equine Specialists, respectively, Montana State University Extension, Bozeman, MT.  Material adapted in part from Horse Keeping: A Guide to Land Management for Clean Water, Council of Bay Resource Conservation Districts, Petaluma, CA.