University of Wyoming Extension News

UW publishes bulletin on water quality pertaining to livestock and wildlife health

The University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture, in collaboration with two state agencies, has published a comprehensive bulletin on water quality as it pertains to the health of livestock and wildlife.

“The target audience is anyone with an interest in water quality as it relates to animal health, including veterinarians, livestock producers, wildlife managers, conservationists, regulatory officials, extension educators and others,” said the lead author, Merl Raisbeck, a professor in the UW College of Agriculture’s Department of Veterinary Sciences.

“The controversies surrounding water produced by coal-bed methane (CBM) development in Wyoming stimulated enough interest we were able to get funding to undertake this concerted effort,” Raisbeck said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t more than 10,000 man-hours in this project.”

Funding for the research and subsequent 94-page bulletin, B-1183, Water Quality for Wyoming Livestock & Wildlife, was provided by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ).

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) was also involved in the project.

B-1183 is available on the UW Cooperative Extension Service Web site at http://ces.uwyo.edu/PUBS/B1183.pdf into the Publication Number slot.

The Web site also has information for ordering hardcopies, which are $9 each.

Raisbeck and seven others performed an exhaustive review of scientific literature pertaining to the most common contaminants in Wyoming’s water and their potential effects on cattle, horses, domestic sheep, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope. The report targeted domestic livestock and wildlife that rely upon wells, ponds, streams, and other water sources in Wyoming, including water produced by CBM development.

“The last concerted effort in the United States to summarize the literature regarding water quality for animals was conducted in the early 1970s by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS),” Raisbeck said. “That was a good study, well done, but there has been much research conducted around the country since then.”

For example, Raisbeck said, research conducted since the NAS review demonstrated sulfur can cause ruminant polio in cows, sheep, elk and deer.

Raisbeck emphasized his team didn’t conduct new research for the bulletin but instead examined refereed journals, textbooks, proceedings from conferences, abstracts and theses, notably those published during the past 20 years.

The bulletin cites 663 sources.

“It was our absolutely best effort in compiling all of the relevant information available at this time on toxicants in water,” Raisbeck said. “It’s the same information others would find if they had a month per toxicant to dig through the literature.”

The bulletin reviews literature pertaining to arsenic, barium, fluoride, molybdenum, nitrate/nitrite, pH, selenium, sodium chloride, sulfur and total dissolved solids. It examines how each is metabolized by livestock and wildlife and at what levels in water they are toxic to animals.

“I would prefer this document would go into decision making versus going into court after a wreck, after you have a bunch of dead animals,” Raisbeck said. “The energy boom is why we got the money to do this, but I want to emphasize the report is based on science, not politics.”

Raisbeck said billions of gallons of groundwater have been pumped to the surface in areas of Wyoming where CBM gas is being produced, prompting concerns about water quality in relation to consumption by livestock and wildlife.

“There is a lot of misinformation on the Web relating to water quality and animals, which has made it difficult to separate truth from fiction,” Raisbeck said. “A lot of misinformation has been cited and then recited and recited.”

He added, “We believe this report represents a reasonable starting point for evaluating the adequacy of water quality for animals.”

Other authors include Sarah Riker of Dubois, who graduated from the UW College of Agriculture in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in animal and veterinary sciences and is now attending veterinary school at Colorado State University; Cynthia Tate, assistant veterinarian for the WGFD based in Laramie; Rich Jackson of Nampa, Idaho, a Ph.D. student in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Renewable Resources; Mike Smith and KJ Reddy, professors in the Department of Renewable Resources; and Jennifer Zygmunt, who graduated from UW in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in botany and is now an environmental analyst with the WDEQ’s Water Quality Division in Cheyenne.

Also contributing was Becky Dailey of Cheyenne, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Veterinary Sciences.

Persons with questions about the bulletin may contact Raisbeck at (307) 742-6681, extension 231, or e-mail him at raisbeck@uwyo.edu.

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