Although goats have been allowed at the city’s water reservoirs, DEQ rules prohibit the keeping of “livestock” at wells. The intent of the rule is to prevent keeping cows and other large animals near drinking water supplies. Pygmy goats are legally defined as livestock although pretty much everyone agrees that they would have no measurable impact on water quality.
Water Department personnel have spent many hours in discussions and even directed their intern, Ryan Barton, to help with the process of developing a goat study. They are calling him the Water Department/Caprine Weed Abatement Intern. Although there was general consensus that goats would not negatively affect water quality, a study still needed to be designed and implemented to prove that they would not. With the help of DEQ personnel, Ryan developed the study protocol that will provide that proof.
Two years ago, the city contracted with a local owner of a herd of pygmy goats to have the goats eat the weeds at city reservoirs, where no waiver was needed. The herd owner was responsible to augment fencing to keep the goats penned and to ensure that the goats had adequate water. The owner periodically visited the sites to make sure the goats were okay. The goats were placed inside the fenced area of one of the reservoirs and within a few days the weeds had been eaten down to the ground’s surface. It is believed that eventually the goats will be able to completely kill the weeds.
Not only are goats environmentally friendly, they are customer friendly as well. The passersby are amused by the highly curious and friendly goats and many journey out of their way just to observe the busy, four-legged workers. Numerous customers have expressed support for the beneficial use of the goats. “As far as I know, no other water utility in the country is using pygmy goats for weed abatement,” said Water Superintendent Jim Markley.
Coeur d’Alene had long searched for an effective, low cost, environmentally-friendly solution to control weeds at its reservoirs and wells. When constructing wells and reservoirs, the city typically lays filter fabric and covers it with washed river rock. The sites are weed free for a few years, but eventually weeds get re-established and then weed removal becomes a problem for the department.
Many methods have been tried to control and/or remove the weeds. Pulling the weeds by hand diverts employees from other duties. Reworking the site is expensive. Using herbicides is not environmentally friendly and using weed whackers or flail mowers does an incomplete job. Paving everything within the fenced area wasn’t considered to be very attractive. Because the city preaches water conservation, the idea of planting grass was also abandoned because adding more turf for watering would send a mixed message to the customers.
For more information, please contact the Water Department at 769-2210 or the Department of Environmental Quality at 769-1422.