Plans approved to install 90 new 'drinking stations' for bighorn sheep amid drought in California

Rob McMillan Image
Thursday, December 29, 2022
Plans approved to install new 'drinking stations' for bighorn sheep
Because of the severe drought and increased development into the desert region, the bighorn sheep's ability to find water has become more of a concern.

Bighorn sheep are beautiful nomadic creatures known for their large, curved horns and innate ability to navigate steep and rocky terrain.

"They have one of the original four-wheel drives," said Steve Marschke, president of the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep. "Their body physiology is very adapted to rocky steep terrain, so they can climb very fast, and they can navigate and climb rocky precipices that are very difficult for humans."

Before California was settled, some experts believe there were more than 50,000 bighorn sheep roaming the landscape in California. Because of hunting and diseases brought in by other landscape, their population dwindled to perhaps 3,500 as recently as the 1960s.

But the bighorn sheep have made somewhat of a comeback in recent years. Their population has climbed back to an estimated 5,000.

However, because of the severe drought and increased development into the desert region, the animal's ability to find water has become more and more of a concern.

"With ever increasing human development, we're just going to cause more impact on the desert habitat, and human development tends to be around certain habitat features where there's water," Marschke said. "And that makes less natural water available to the bighorn sheep."

But Marschke said their organization has a plan to double the number of drinking stations available for bighorn sheep to find water. Currently there are approximately 90 artificial watering holes throughout the region.

"Typically, we have a large rubber-like rain mat that collects rainfall, and the water runs through piping to underground storage tanks," he said.

Each installation typically contains three tanks, which can hold a total of about 6,900 gallons of water. But they're costly to install.

"When we do an install it's all volunteer labor, and we use approximately $25,000 of materials between the rain mats, plumbing and tanks and depending on the location," Marschke said. "And some locations are very remote and require use of helicopter to move the equipment in.

"That can add another $15,000 to the cost."

These drinking stations are paid for with funding made available by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Marschke said they also receive funding from private donors and other various public grants.

"We don't want to go backwards," Marschke said. "Everyone seems to like the bighorn sheep, and if we take care of the larger animals pretty much everything else in the desert seems to come along for the ride and enjoy the benefits."