Despite the political “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over President Donald Trump’s skinnied-down fiscal 2018-19 budget proposal, Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding came out of a recent congressional Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus meeting much relieved. “The Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts will not go unfunded. I’m more confident of that after this meeting. We’ll be able to continue the progress made by the agriculture sector.”
Redding had more than 52 reasons why. The watershed caucus includes 52 members of Congress from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. And, the governors of all six states are firmly behind full funding.
MORE AT EASE: After meeting with the congressional Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus, Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding was relieved about continued federal restoration funding.
“The Chesapeake Bay Program — a longstanding, bipartisan partnership at the local, state and federal levels — has made significant progress in improving the Bay,” acknowledged Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., caucus co-chairman. “We’re committed to support efforts that help ensure the Bay remains an environmental treasure and economic driver.”
The president’s zero-funding proposal was understood to be a figurative “bargaining chip” in a let’s-make-a-deal effort to reduce wasteful federal spending. None the less, Redding and others on a panel of state officials, plus economic and environmental experts, briefed the congressional caucus on the crucial importance of continued funding.
Redding also noted: “Our agriculture sector has a lot of work to do. Our efforts will account for 80% of the work required to succeed in this [Watershed Implementation Plan] initiative. Without success by Pennsylvania agriculture, we won’t have success in the Bay restoration.
“This cannot be a conversation about 2025, but needs to address the reality: For farms to remain viable, we need to work together across all sectors and to focus on conservation for the future.”
The challenges ahead
Redding built a strong case for full Bay Program funding based on Pennsylvania ag demographics. Here are a few of his points:
• Lancaster County alone has twice as many dairy cows as Maryland and 25% more than found grazing in all of Virginia. There are twice as many farms in this county than in all of Delaware.
• EPA data suggests Pennsylvania is responsible for 69% of remaining basin-wide nitrogen load reductions. Agriculture will likely be responsible for as much, if not more, than 80% of those reductions.
• Loss of federal funds would result in losing 42 conservation district technicians and engineers in 28 watershed counties.
• The state’s Department of Environmental Protection would eliminate 11 to 12 staff needed for ag regulatory compliance inspections.
• About $2 million per year would be lost for BMP cost-share grants to county conservation districts.
Voluntary farm BMP efforts finally credited
Thanks to a major statewide voluntary reporting effort of best management practices by Pennsylvania farmers, U.S. EPA has successfully incorporated many BMPs done on farms without cost-sharing into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed model, confirmed Redding. Survey tallies from 6,751 farms showed the following practices done without cost-sharing:
• 475,800 acres of nutrient/manure management
• 97,562 acres of enhanced nutrient management
• 2,164 animal-waste storage units
• 2,106 barnyard runoff-control systems
• 55,073 acres of ag erosion and sedimentation control plans
• 228,264 acres of conservation plans
• More than 1.3 million feet of stream-bank fencing
• 1,757 acres of grass riparian buffers
• 5,808 acres of forested riparian buffers
Total estimated reductions delivered to the Bay attributed to these practices included 1,047,704 pounds of nitrogen, 79,620 pounds of phosphorus and 10,395,906 pounds of sediment per year. “These results didn’t happen without dedicated resources, capacity and funding,” affirmed Redding.