The Potomac Highlands Watershed School
Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum
Chesapeake Bay Program Implementation Challenges
An Agricultural Perspective (Rev 1/23/08)
Matt Monroe, Environmental Coordinator, & Phil Petry, Assistant Director, R.E.A.D., West Virginia Department of Agriculture
The Chesapeake Bay is described as a “National Treasure”. That brings to mind images of crabs, sailboats and beautiful sunsets, but what does that have to do with West Virginia? That’s a question many West Virginia citizens probably asked when they first heard about West Virginia signing onto the Chesapeake Bay Program agreement as a “headwaters partner” in 2001. The strongest connection that most of these people probably had to the Chesapeake Bay is a t-shirt, from a past vacation to the Baltimore Inner Harbor that reads, “I’m crabby”.
When discussions began in West Virginia about the need to reduce nutrients and sediment in waters flowing to the Chesapeake Bay, it was difficult to convince citizens that they needed to clean up streams that people felt were already high quality streams. In comparison to loads from rivers such as the Susquehanna, and MASSIVE point sources such as the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, West Virginia’s nutrient contributions were thought to be minimal.
Similarly, the agricultural community had many concerns when faced with the daunting task of putting together a plan to reduce nutrient and sediment contributions to the streams that eventually end up in the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, if the uncertainties weren’t enough, these reductions would be extremely EXPENSIVE!!! The West Virginia agricultural community is expected to spend (capital and annual costs) $200,907,403, by the year 2010. Even with participation in cost-share programs, a significant amount of this will be out-of-pocket expenses for the farmer. If the farmers spend this money, what benefit will they receive? Will it just be the satisfaction of knowing that they did a “good deed”, or does their farm actually realize monetary gain?
Another concern was the fact that farmers had already spent over $15 million on Best Management Practices (BMPs) to make reductions in nutrients, sediment and bacteria. Did this even count as a reduction in the model, or would the farmers be forced to start back at zero? Also, farmers really enjoy the benefits of owning land and deciding what they want to produce on it. Some suggested BMPs, such as forest riparian buffers, may take land out of production, which is a very difficult thought for farmers wanting to maximize production on their farms.
However, the movement in the agriculture community has now turned to the implementation phase. Through the above mentioned cost-share programs, and other BMP initiatives, livestock watering systems, feedlot relocations, stream bank stabilization efforts, and other projects have been installed on farms in the headwater drainage. No one expects that $200 million will suddenly be made available for the agriculture sector to use to meet environmental goals. So, it seems the most sensible thing to do is to use the limited funds available to install as many projects as possible, and to work to bring more funds to the table whenever they can be secured.
With the uncertainties mentioned above, you can easily see what a challenge this process has been and will be for years to come. However, the agriculture community in West Virginia is committed to protecting and preserving the Chesapeake Bay and improving water quality for its downstream neighbors.