Rachel Hopkins

Rachel Hopkins and her father installed portable and permanent fencing and water sources for cattle. They raise cattle in Crawford County and work with state and federal agencies to protect water quality. 

For Rachel Hopkins, taking care of the land is one way to carry on her family’s tradition. She is a University of Missouri Extension county engagement specialist based in Washington County, and she is a fourth-generation Crawford County cattle producer.

“We have a place here on the Huzzah River, crystal clear water,” she says.

Hopkins says her great-grandfather came to the area from Oklahoma, and water was important to him.

“What drew him to this area was the sources of water,” she says.

She still appreciates those resources, and works to conserve them. This summer, Women in NRCS named Hopkins the winner of the first Conservationist of the Year award for her efforts.

“We can do a lot of simple things to preserve water quality, and to help promote a good name for farmers,” Hopkins says.

Missouri has approximately 133,462 registered private domestic water wells, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The department recommends having wells tested each year for total coliform bacteria, E. coli, nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH levels.

There are many sources of contamination of groundwater. Among the most common are:

  • naturally occurring minerals, nutrients and metals (arsenic, lead, fluoride)
  • local land use practices (fertilizers, pesticides, animal feeding operations)
  • manufacturing processes
  • sewer overflows and
  • malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems (for example, nearby septic systems).

One step taken to protect quality on the Hopkins family farm was fencing off the creeks, as opposed to running fences down through the creek bed. Hopkins says it was stepping into the unknown, but it worked well and helped ensure a better water source for cattle.

“The quality of water to the animal, it is so much better from a fenced in pond or well water,” she says.

Hopkins says fencing around ponds and buffer strips next to creeks and rivers can do a lot for water quality, and available cost-share funding makes it an even better option.

“There’s cost share out there,” she says. “People have the ability to get 75 to 90% covered. … It increases the value of their place.”

Jennifer Hoggatt, director of Missouri’s Water Resource Center, says the management of the state’s water resources has been a key focus of the state for a long time. The resource center is a part of the Missouri Geological Survey, which is a division of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

“Our early charge, and really remains to this day, is to understand the resources of the state, and of course water is a big resource,” she says.

Hoggatt says the Water Resource Center is working to develop the latest version of the state water plan, which outlines the goals and plans for how to use the state’s water for a variety of different uses.

“We’ve been bringing in a wide range of stakeholders,” she says. “We’re looking at both the supply in that state, and the demand.”

The state has had water plans dating back to 1938, Hoggatt says. The most recent state water plan was 2003. The plan is not binding, but it is subject to approval by the state legislature. She says the goal is to have the next plan, which she calls “a much more comprehensive plan,” ready for approval by the state legislature in next year’s legislative session, which runs from January to May.

“We look at ground water, surface water, interstate waters,” Hoggatt says.

She says the plan also studies the water needs of agriculture, city water sources and navigation’s water needs looking out as far as 2060.

Hoggatt says Missouri has abundant water resources.

“We’re very blessed with water in Missouri,” she says. “Our challenge for the most part is getting the water where we need it.”

The University of Missouri provides input for the plan on ag water needs.

“They have supplied us with estimates for the needs for crop irrigation and livestock irrigation,” Hoggatt says.

Several ag groups have weighed in on the next state water plan, she says.

Missouri is also part of the NRCS Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is designed to improve water quality and work with farmers and landowners to implement conservation practices.

Steve Hefner, natural resources specialist with Missouri NRCS, says sediment and soil erosion is the primary challenge to Missouri water quality, as well as nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, and then E. coli bacteria.

Hefner says Missouri has made a lot of progress, but efforts at reducing erosion and improving water quality are ongoing.

“I think we can say that we’ve made great progress since 1985,” he says. “We’ve really went down in terms of soil erosion on land. But soil erosion is a natural process, and using the land accelerates that process. There’s always room for improvement.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.