ODA appointed a new ag water quality specialist to Washington County in 2016. Brenda Sanchez started her natural resource journey in Bend, OR where she attended Central Oregon Community College to study geology. From there, she transferred to Montana State University and earned a degree in environmental science. Since completing her degrees, Brenda has had broad experience throughout the western US. She has worked as in the field and in the lab with the Gallatin National Forest, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
One of her favorite field stories came from her work with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “I was working to remove an old forest haul road that ran along a stream and dissected a wetland creating havoc to the streambank and impacting water quality. This was my first time as the project lead and it was given to me because no one else would touch it – I was too green to say no. I planned the twenty-acre project down to its very last t-post and fence stay. We moved the road upslope, restored the old roadbed, contoured the streambank, planted native riparian and wetland species, installed two miles of fence, fell trees and constructed large woody debris piles. The weekend just after paying for the fence, a large-scale wildfire broke out in the watershed streaming downhill until it reached my project site and burned the entire north side of my project site. I returned to work on that Monday to hear stories of how the local community and wildland fire fighters worked to save all the newly planted vegetation and structures but at the cost of a large portion of my new fence. I spent the next two weeks chasing wild horses and random cattle out of my project site to save the planted vegetation.”
Weather related challenges from winds to floods continued to plague both the project and the fence. A particularly long duration storm event hit the watershed, resulting in a fast, muddy overland flood. “After the event, I went in to check what the damage would be fully prepared to see widespread damage and thinking about how I would tell my supervisor the $200,000 project was lost but to my surprise everything stayed in place. I was so happy my cheeks hurt to see that all the work we did accomplished its intent. All the new structures slowed the water down and allowed for new gravel bars to establish and sediment to fall out of the water column building the toe of the stream bank up. The plants all survived and the straw wattles were still in place. The moral of the story is to never let the mischievous workings of a watershed muddle your efforts to restore a riparian site for the sake of water quality.”
Brenda has a special connection to Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “While living in Madras, I served on the Jefferson SWCD board as an associate director for five years and was on their OWEB small grants team. After several years with the tribes I moved to Salem, Oregon to work for the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District coordinating their agricultural water quality program for a few years. It was from these experiences I got to understand agricultural water quality issues and I was soon working for the Oregon Department of Agriculture as their North Coast/ North Willamette Water Quality Specialist.”
Brenda tells us that she found her career niche for myself back when she worked for the Warm Springs Tribes. “I realized I could best serve my career and utilize the skill set I had been developing by focusing on water quality and watershed management. I have worked over the years on many aspects of water quality management from writing watershed assessments, assessing landscape conditions, drafting water quality improvement projects, writing grants to fund the projects, and working in groups to make decisions and format outreach opportunities. I thoroughly enjoy my job and find satisfaction in being able to help the agricultural community better manage their water resources.”
We asked Brenda for her top tip for protecting water quality in agriculture areas, and she admitted it is hard to choose just one. “I would have trouble boiling it down to one tip especially since every producer is different and each face their own set of challenges but over all I would have to say my top tip for protecting water quality would be to mind your water and use agricultural practices that maximize the conservation of water and minimize pollution. I would like to see more individuals from the agricultural community working with their local soil and water conservation district to understand their role in water quality management and how they can best manage for water quality on their property. I have also worked diligently over my career to promote agricultural practices that result in functional landscapes to achieve good water quality, economic and environmental resilience, and long-term agricultural production.”
When asked what the highest priority concerns for ag water quality in our watershed are, the answer was much more concise. “The biggest concern for water quality from non-regulated agricultural activities in the Tualatin Watershed is nonpoint source pollution that results in higher stream temperatures and pollutants such as bacteria and fertilizer and pesticide residues entering waterways. To reduce these impacts priority should be focused on minimizing soil erosion, reducing irrigation runoff, protecting riparian areas, and using integrated pest management practices.”