When agricultural land meets active waterways, conflict can arise. Producers may need to run fencing across the river to contain livestock, but river users want open channels.
With an active portion of the Rat River winding through his pasture land, Manitoba cattle producer Peter Funk was all too familiar with this scenario.
“When the water comes up in the spring people like to move down the river in canoes, but I had to have an electric fence up to keep my cattle contained,” Funk said. “It seemed like every time they would come down the river they would cut the fence so that they could get through,” said Funk, who runs a 70-head cattle operation south of Grunthal.
On several occasions Funk has discovered his fencing snipped by recreational river users, and he was concerned about someone getting injured by his fencing.
“This is an issue that is definitely out there,” said Jodi Goerzen, manager of the Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD). “I know that a lot of times canoeists will travel with snips in their pockets for wires and debris that come about. It certainly is an issue. It is more of an unspoken issue but it does happen quite a bit.”
By working with local landowners, the SRRCD has found an innovative solution to meet the needs of both river users and landowners.
“We work in a lot of riparian areas and it is important to use the resources we already have to find the best solutions that benefit agriculture and the local community,” said Robert Budey, SRRCD subwatershed representative of the Rat River and Joubert Creek Watershed.
It was Budey, after speaking with Funk about the issue, who took it up at the next regular subdistrict meeting of the organization. There stakeholders felt the issue was big enough to warrant a cross-river fence pilot project back in 2015.
Budey and the SRRCD came up with a design for a cross-river fence, which was inspired by the Dolores River Boating Advocates (DRBA) group in Colorado.
The fence consists of a steel cable that is raised a few metres above the river, and secured to a fence post on either shoreline. Plastic PVC pipes are hung from the cable, one foot apart, to create a curtain effect. Wire was threaded through a drilled hole in the PVC pipe and looped around the steel cable.
“Peter installed the fence posts on either side of the river and then we waited until the water level dropped quite low to run the cable and set up the curtain,” Goerzen said.
The SRRCD altered the DRBA’s original design by adding a rope, which is thread through the wire loops, to create a pulley system that allows the pipe curtain to be pulled back at freeze-up.
“The pull curtain was an alteration that we made to the original design,” Goerzen said “We found, because of freeze-up and spring melt with the ice moving along the river, we also needed to install a pull curtain that shifts the PVC tubes out of the way of the moving ice, and also for those who use the riverway in the winter, like snowmobilers and cross-country skiers,” Goerzen said.
The new fencing solution also comes with an appealing price tag of just under $1,000.
“We are really surprised with such a simple solution,” Goerzen said.” I think that people look to us for innovation and we find something that is a pretty easy fix that can solve a big issue for them. And, that is certainly the case here. We had no idea this was such an issue for people and to be able to offer this simple, affordable solution is great.”
The PVC pipes will stay consistent with the water level and act as a visual barrier to deter livestock, while at the same time still allowing any recreational river users to pass between the pipes safely.
“So far this has worked excellent with the cattle,” Funk said. “As the water goes down these plastic pipes always stay with the water level and the cows never go underneath. Before I always had wires across and had someone been moving down the river and not notice, there was potential for them to get seriously hurt and I would have been liable. With this version here it is really safe; those using the river are able to go right through and it still keeps my cattle where they should be. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who has been having similar issues on their operation.”
Both Funk and SRRCD have had a number of inquiries about the design and the SRRCD has also committed to installing two more cross-fences in its district.
You can check out how the fence works for canoeists on YouTube.