Cattle, clean water, and climate change: policy choices for the Brazilian Agricultural Frontier

Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Nov 15;44(22):8377-84. doi: 10.1021/es1034014. Epub 2010 Oct 20.


In the Amazonian agricultural frontier, pasture for cattle ranching is an important and potentially hazardous form of land use because of sediment erosion as pastures degrade. This relationship between ranching, sediment load, and water quality is likely to further exacerbate environmental impacts, particularly in the context of climate change. We examine the role that river basin councils (RBCs) - a water governance option of Brazil's 1997 National Water Act - might play in managing this nonpoint-source pollution in the Amazônian state of Rondônia. We implement a simple coupled rancher-water system model to compare two potential governance options: a bulk water cleanup charge (BWC) implemented by RBCs and a land-use fine (LUF) for failing to maintain riparian buffers. We find no significant advantage of BWC over LUF in reducing sediment loading while keeping ranching profitable, under a changing climate. We also fail to find in Rondônia the important stake in water issues that has driven water reform elsewhere in Brazil. Moreover, the comparative success of reforestation programs suggests these programs may, in fact, have the potential to manage nonpoint-source agricultural pollution in the region.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Animals
  • Brazil
  • Cattle
  • Climate Change*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Environment
  • Environmental Policy*
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Water Cycle
  • Water Pollutants / analysis
  • Water Pollution / analysis*
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Water Pollutants