The McClellan’s: Harnessing the Power of the Sun to Protect Water Quality

Farmer stands in front of barn with friend

Situated at the headwaters of the Credit River watershed, Don and Karen McClellan own 100 beautiful acres of rolling Mono hills. The farm had been in Karen McClellan’s family for years and now the two have called it home for the past 35 years.

“In this area, the water to the east runs to the Humber, to the north it goes to the Nottawasaga and to the south, it runs to the Credit,” says Don McClellan.

With about 75 acres of leased pasture, hay and crop fields, and 15 to 25 head of cattle grazing on the hills, the McClellan’s know how important their job is as stewards of the land. Until several years ago, the cattle had access to the small headwaters stream that runs through the farm. According to Don, “the stream was starting to widen and get pretty mucky.” To keep the cattle away from the creek, the McClellan’s installed a temporary single-strand electric fence. The cattle were instead allowed to drink from a spring-fed trough about 100 feet back from the creek.

In 2012 (a particularly dry summer), the spring ran dry for a period of time. The cattle needed to be watered at the barn from the house’s well. The McClellan’s wanted a solution, to be able to use the reliable stream as a source of clean drinking water while protecting its quality and wildlife habitat. So Karen McClellan contacted Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) where she met Mark Eastman, Agricultural Extension Coordinator.

The McClellan’s aren’t a registered farm business. This made access to the traditional agricultural-based funding programs, such as Growing Forward 2 or Rural Clean Water Programs difficult.  Mark Eastman kept his eyes and ears open until an alternative funding opportunity came along to help restore the stream and build a permanent livestock fence.

In early 2014, Eastman heard that the newly-formed Headwaters Stream Committee was looking to support projects that protect, enhance or rehabilitate surface water in Dufferin County. He saw the potential for a partnership in support of the McClellan’s project.

CVC and the Headwaters Stream Committee worked together to upgrade the temporary fence to a permanent one. They enhanced the creek’s buffer area with 265 mixed trees and shrubs, planted by CVC. Headwaters Stream Committee volunteers planted 700 dogwood and willow live stakes to further enhance the stream’s buffer. Because the newly constructed fence now restricts livestock access to the stream, the groups installed a solar-powered water pump and trough system to pull fresh clean drinking water from the creek – even in times of drought.

There are significant environmental benefits from this project. These include increased biodiversity, reduced risk of pathogens and nutrients in the water from the cattle pasture, and improved fish habitat. Within a year or two, the McClellan’s should see their water return to a deep and clean-running creek, suitable for fish that thrive in cold water.

“I’ve lost maybe an acre and a half of pasture on the other side of the creek but I know I would have needed to build a crossing to get the cows there anyways. This way I can protect the water and give a little corner of land back,” said Don. Don feels more rural landowners should be reaching out to CVC for assistance with their environmental improvement projects. “It’s been a really good experience,” said Don “more people should take advantage of this.”

Karen Morrison of the Headwaters Stream Committee, that provided critical financial assistance, has been involved with the project from the very beginning. Sometimes she drops by the farm to check on the dogwood and willow live stakes. She is very passionate about the good work the committee is doing. “If you asked people to vote on whether they want clean water, almost everyone would vote yes” said Morrison. “That’s why it’s crucial for the committee to support amazing projects like Don and Karen McClellan’s. It directly protects water quality in the headwaters.”

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