Humboldt Agricultural Enhancement Program

Improving Water Quality and Manure Management of

Humboldt County Dairies


Water Quality, Agriculture, and

the Resource Conservation District

The HCRCD has been awarded a series of State Water Resources Control Board grants to help Humboldt County dairy operators in the Eel River Delta and the Humboldt Bay area bring their operations up to current standards by implementing state of the art water quality management systems through practices and demonstrations of such practices as: manure distribution, heavy use area protection, roof runoff management, and waste storage structures.  The HCRCD has received additional grants through NRCS and the County of Humboldt Headwaters Fund to work with dairy operators on many new and innovative practices on their dairies.

Contain, store, and apply at the correct time to the land. These are the three key concepts to managing manure effectively. They also can lead to many challenges, as many dairies in Humboldt County that we work with must be retrofitted in order to meet  current water quality standards. Often we are faced with the challenge to put state of the art manure management technology to work on a facility with structures and a layout almost unchanged from the early 1900’s. To make matters even more complicated, every dairy is different, and every operator is different in their management philosophies.

The HCRCD works with landowners on a one-on-one basis to create a fully custom idea of what will work on their facility, what the landowner will be most happy with, and what will fit within the budget of the operation.

In order to assist landowners, the HCRCD works with NRCS to provide design services, permitting help, and on selected projects, a cost share payment to the dairy operator for project implementation.  All projects must fall into a category for enhancing manure containment, storage, or application to land.

Containment is the necessary first step to preventing pollution. All manure that is generated from the dairy cow when she is off of the pasture and on the facility must be contained. Additionally, any water that contacts manure becomes contaminated and must also be contained. Think of it as you would a fence around your property – you are essentially containing everything within that boundary from getting out, but if the fence is broken it does not do its job.

All of that contained manure and contaminated water must be stored somewhere. This is where dairy operator preference is key to the success of the manure storage system. Manure can successfully be stored in two ways. It can be stored in a solid state or it can be stored in a liquid state.  Most dairies in Humboldt County employ a combination of both. There is no set time that the operator must store the manure for, but 120 days during the winter is what most operators and the HCRCD are striving for.  To store solid manure, specially designed concrete bunkers are employed. Solid manure can also be composted in a windrow. Composted solid manure does not give off much of a smell, and is readily used by plants in the pasture. Liquid manure is stored in either an earthen pond or a concrete structure.

There are other aspects to storage, too. These include any project that can be done on a dairy to increase the amount of time manure can be stored. An example of this would be placing gutters on all of the structures to divert clean rainwater away from a contamination source.  All of that contaminated rainwater would have to go into storage. By removing that water the dairy operator has just increased his storage time dramatically.  A recent HCRCD project installed a large gutter system on a Ferndale Dairy. By diverting all of the clean rainwater, we were able to keep over 1.5 million gallons of clean water a year from becoming contaminated and having to be stored!




In order to place the manure onto the land as fertilizer at the correct time of the year many technologies must be employed. When placing stored solid manure onto the pasture, the most proven technology is a manure spreader pulled by a tractor. When placing liquid manure, the process gets a little more complicated. The most common approach to the application of liquid manure is the pipe and sprinkler approach. Specially designed PVC irrigation line is buried underground to take the manure from the storage to the field. In order to get it into the pipe at the right pressure, a specially designed manure pump must be used. When it gets to the part of pasture that the operator wants to fertilize, the manure is applied with a large sprinkler gun. The gun is specially designed to place manure at certain rates depending on the speed set by the operator. Therefore, very precise applications of manure as fertilizer can be made. Many other interesting and cutting edge technologies and techniques can be employed when handling liquid manure. For example, if no pipeline exists to get the liquid manure out, a large tank pulled by a tractor can be used to place the manure.

Gutter System on a Classic Barn

Managed Liquids Storage Pond

Brand new Manure Spreader

Large manure Irrigation Sprinkler

One new service that the HCRCD recently began to provide to dairy operators is the creation of custom Nutrient Management Plans or NMPs. NMPs are a useful tool to be used by the dairy operator to apply manure at the correct amounts to maximize forage quality and quantity, and to protect against harming water quality. This planning is especially beneficial to Certified Organic dairy operations where commercial fertilizer can not be utilized. Conventional dairy operators can also benefit as the prices of commercial fertilizer skyrockets.

While figuring out correct application rates for fertilizer is not a new science by any stretch, creating NMPs for Humboldt County is. The HCRCD is leading the way in developing protocols to take the plan from start to finish and give the dairy operator up to date and useful information. Why is this so difficult? NMPs are common across the entire US on dairy facilities from coast to coast. However most of these dairies are large feedlot operations, that generate more manure than the land can handle without pollution. Humboldt County dairies are all pasture based dairies, relatively very small in size when compared to other dairies in California. Typically, Humboldt County dairies do not have too much manure, often the opposite is found. The challenge lies in the fact that each Humboldt County dairy is unique; operations vary from land size, herd size, available infrastructure, to management styles and resource concerns. In comparison, Fresno County can develop an NMP process that will be true with little modification for 90% of their dairies, but every NMP in Humboldt County must be custom made, one of a kind, with no two alike.

The HCRCD has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) to develop state of the art NMPs for a few dairies as a trial run, and plans to expand its services in the next few years. Why is the HCRCD leading this effort? To protect and enhance water quality for all of us as well as the environment, and to help sustain small pasture based dairy operations within our county. Conserving resources and adding to the economic viability of our community, that’s what the HCRCD is all about.

Nutrient Management Planning:

Healthy Pasture on a Ferndale Dairy



This grant expands work under HCRCD’s Dairy Program. The HCRCD will focus on working one-on-one with up to four dairy producers to provide technical assistance and scientific testing leading to the development of individualized nutrient management plans. The funds will also be used to enhance the capacity of the HCRCD to get the training and gain expertise needed to contract with NRCS to develop and assist local dairy operators to implement Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs).


Funding Agency: Headwaters Fund / County of Humboldt


Completed 2011

humboldt agriculture management and enhancement program-american recovery and reinvestment act of 2009 (arra)


Through a grant from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) HCRCD is continuing its successful work of reducing animal waste and related pollution to the Eel and Mad-Redwood watersheds. This is a "principle forgiveness" loan for water storage, waste handling, and nutrient management practices and systems at local participating dairies. This program demonstrates current technology in dairy waste management in the Humboldt Bay area.


Funding for this project has been provided in full or in part through an agreement with the State Water Resources Control Board. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the State Water Resources Control Board, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use. (Gov. Code, § 7550, 40 CFR § 31.20.

Completed 2011


nrcs WQI contribution agreement


Through this agreement, the RCD is working with Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) to provide; education and outreach about NRCS programs; supports NRCS staff complete road assessments and inventories; assist producers develop and implement nmps and bmps.


Funding Agency: USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service


Completed 2013






Sutter County RCD / NRCS Contribution Agreement - Conservation Planner support


This agreement supports one RCD staff person to become a certified Conservation Planner through NRCS

Funding Agency: USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service

Completed 2012

Copyright Humboldt County Resource Conservation District. All Rights Reserved

New Roof System

Underground Mainline

Gutter System on Dairy Barn

Hedwaters Fund support for Humboldt’s family dairies


This grant supports the local dairy industry in its efforts to protect water quality and meet new regional water quality regulations.  HCRCD will provide technical assistance to local dairy producers by: sampling water, forage, soils and manure; supporting and staffing the Sustainable Agriculture Committee; and providing conservation planning assistance and developing conservation plans with local dairies.

Funding Agency: Headwaters Fund / County of Humboldt







Completed 2015

Dairy water quality mapping


Under this contract the HCRCD is collaborating with California Dairy Quality Assurance Program, University of California Cooperative Extension, and several RCDs.  The purpose of this effort is to assist dairy producers meet new North Coast Regional Water Quality Board requirements for dairies.  The HCRCD will work cooperatively with interested dairy producers in Humboldt and Del Norte counties to help them complete regulatory paperwork and develop facility maps now required under the regulations.  HCRCD will also assist in planning and producing three local workshops to help producers understand and meet the new dairy water quality requirements.

Funding Agency: Sotoyome RCD

Completed 2012


Text Box: Sustainable Family Dairies Planning Project
Supported by the County of Humboldt Headwaters Fund

For Power Point Presentation Slides

Northcoast irrigation and fertigation management


The North Coast Irrigation Water & Fertigation Management Plan (IWFMP) was developed and designed for producers who utilize groundwater resources for irrigation throughout the North Coast region. The plan will incorporate available scientific sources of data integral to management decisions for effective, efficient irrigation of crops. It will also allow for the incorporation of different sources of nutrients applied to crops, ensuring that producers’ decisions for nutrient applications provide maximum benefit to crops while protecting groundwater and surface water resources from unintentional run-off or percolation effects.


Funding Agency: North Coast  Resource Partnership/West Coast Watershed









The North Coast Irrigation Water and Fertigation Management Plan tool is intended to help agricultural producers assess water and nutrient applications and crop demands on irrigated agricultural lands. Water and nutrient demands are seasonally dependent and based on multiple environmental site specific conditions which should be evaluated by a professional agronomist qualified to make recommendations. The IWFMP management tool is not intended as a substitute to recommendations from a qualified professional. Currently, the IWFMP model does not account for soil moisture or soil type, but it is envisioned that this will be added into a future version of the model.

The IWFMP utilizes Excel worksheets as an input framework for use by agricultural producers and is based on calculating a water and nutrient balance for a variety of crop types (System requirements: Microsoft Office Excel 2010 (or newer)). It is regionally adaptable for use throughout the North Coast Region to inform producers of optimal water and fertilizer usage for enhanced management of farm resources and to maximize crop production. Producers input their farm-specific data such as acreages, crop type, irrigation sources, application rates, pumping rates, irrigation schedule, and fertilizer applications. The model utilizes this information to provide the user with a summary of past management for the current year and information for each designated land unit.  The IWFMP includes the ability to incorporate farm-specific equipment information, information for soil moisture monitoring data, well water monitoring, and other agronomic information to better refine the outputs.

CLICK for Excel IWFMP Tool

IWFMP Brochure