While chatting with a beef customer lately, I mentioned we were busy repairing water gaps after the recent 2.5” of rainfall.  He queried “What is a water-gap?” After answering the question, I thought it might be a good topic to address!

A water-gap is the portion of the fence that crosses a water way such as a stream, creek bed or wash.  Here in Arizona, these channels are often dry until a significant rainfall or runoff from melting snows.  All of Yavapai County is open range as defined in ARS, Title 3, Article 8.  While landowners are responsible for fencing their private land to keep unwanted livestock out, most ranch operations maintain good fencing to keep their valuable livestock where they are safe.  Livestock fencing is generally constructed of at least four strands of tightly stretch barbed wire attached to posts not more than 30’ apart, with stays for support in between the posts.  When fencing around a pasture that is often 1,000’s of acres in size and has varied and rugged terrain, there are bound to be washes, creek beds, or streams to traverse.  This is where the water-gap comes in.    If your typical livestock fencing is installed across a wash it will act as a catch-all for debris carried along by the water. When enough debris accumulates, a literal dam is created and the water backs up until enough volume accumulates to tear down the entire stretch of fence.  Damage to the fence-line can be extensive!

To help mitigate this scenario, a breakaway water-gap is typically constructed.  Strong “H” braces are constructed on the banks of the waterway. The fencing wires are stretched from one bank to the center of the waterway and tied off to a “gate stick”, a wooden pole.  This process is repeated from the opposite bank, again to the center of the waterway.  The two “gate sticks” are then wired together at the center of the waterway, using a lighter gauge wire.  The premise is if and when debris builds up and puts excessive pressure on the fencing, the water-gap will “break away” at the weak link of the lighter gauge wire.  The water flow will usually lay the two sections of fencing down along the banks and eventually bury them under sand, dirt and debris.  Once the water subsides to a level where a person can wade out into it, one digs the two sections of fencing out of the aforementioned debris and reattaches them once again in the center of the waterway with new pieces of light gauge wire!  Hopefully, this is accomplished before the cattle behind the fencing discover the water-gap is down and go exploring on the other side!

Since Arizona has such infrequent water events, debris can really build up in the areas around washes, creek beds and stream.  Sticks, dead trees, leaves, juniper berries, trash, weeds and illegally dumped materials all get washed down stream, eventually into someone’s water-gap.  So please think twice before disposing of landscape trimmings or construction debris in a wash or low lying area, because as we all know, it all flows downhill.

Special to Yavapai Health and Wellness

By Kim McElroy, Broken Horn D Ranch