The water at the Owyhee Reservoir casts a mid-summer green glow. A recent infusion of funds from a state agency will help two conservation groups boost water quality and range improvements across Malheur County. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – Two local conservation organizations received a big boost from the state recently to improve water quantity and quality and restore sage grouse habitat.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board earmarked grants totaling $380,407 for five projects overseen by the Malheur County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Malheur Watershed Council.

The soil and water conservation district is a state agency while the watershed council is managed by the county. Both organizations focus on conservation issues such as water quality and the health of rangeland.

 The largest grant - $149,912 – will help the conservation district mend sage grouse habitat 36 miles west of Rome that was damaged by range fires.

“We will probably start work in the fall,” said Linda Rowe, district manager.

The money will also be used to shore up eroded streambanks and for weed control.

“They get a lot of runoff from the area, have some huge floods through there,” said Rowe. “If you stabilize the stream bank it also brings up the water table.”

Rowe said posts are pounded into the banks of streams to stabilize them.

“That stops the soil from moving off,” said Rowe.

As part of the sage grouse habitat restoration, permanent fire breaks are created around known nesting hares of the bird. More work is necessary to prevent fire from jumping those breaks.

Rowe said weed control is another major part of the Rome project.

Medusahead is endemic in the area, choking out native plants and creating ample kindling for fires.

The funding will help the conservation district’s spraying and replanting program.

“Medusahead sometimes takes several treatments because it is very aggressive,” said Rowe.

The district also plants kosha on damaged rangeland.

“It stays green all year around so when your cheat grass dries out, kosha stays green,” said Rowe.

The conservation district also received two other to convert flood irrigation to sprinklers in the county. A grant for $36,062 will be used for a joint project with the Owyhee Irrigation District. A grant for $40,223 will help with a sprinkler conversion on 80 acres near Owyhee Junction.

The watershed council will use about $153,000 in state grants to continue monitoring water quality at sites in the Malheur and Owyhee river basins. Some of that money will also be used to convert flood irrigation to sprinkler on a 59-acre farm near Harper.

 Have a news tip: Contact Reporter Pat Caldwell at 541-473-3377 or [email protected]

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