The key to saline seep reclamation is to minimize leaching (movement of water through the soil profile) below the plant rooting zone in the recharge area. When moisture is utilized in the plant rooting zone, the water table in the recharge area is no longer recharged and it is able to return to its natural elevation. When the water table returns to its natural elevation, the salts go down with it, and salt no longer accumulates on the ground surface in the discharge area.
Montanans have three general solutions to address saline seeps. They may be used separately or in conjunction with each other:
- Saline seeps that developed or expanded as a result of a crop-fallow farming system, can be reclaimed with a 5-10 year rotation to perennial forage in the recharge area. Alfalfa has proven over time to be the best available crop to lower the water table in the recharge area by preventing leaching. This is due to its extensive root system and long growing season which enables it to dry out deep subsoil moisture and use all the growing season precipitation. Other legumes and grasses can be effective as well.
- Switching from the crop-fallow system to a flexible but more intensive annual cropping system can help prevent salinity problems. The flex-crop system should always follow the forage rotation and can include cereal grain, oil-seed, and annual legume crops.
- The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) forage stands mimic alfalfa in lowering the water table in recharge areas, and subsequently in the corresponding seep.