Chesapeake Bay States Ask Federal Funding to Curb Pollution

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, April 7, 2006 (ENS) - Both federal and state funding to help farmers reduce polluted runoff to Chesapeake Bay from agricultural operations and urban development has been inadequate to the task, according to a new report by the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership leading and directing restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary. It includes Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report on the health of the Bay, released March 31, finds poor dissolved oxygen levels, declining water clarity, and increased algal blooms.

The good news for restoration efforts is that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from sewage treatment plants is being reduced, and more reductions can be expected as a result of new permit limits and planned plant upgrades. But the report finds more funding is needed to combat nonpoint source pollution.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the largest conservation organization that works to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, is using the new report as ammunition in its battle to pry more money from state and federal coffers.

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Cities contribute to the Bay about twice the nitrogen and phosphorus load per acre as agriculture. (Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Program) (Photo courtesy )
"This is not a problem that needs a solution. Rather it is a set of solutions that need to be funded," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker. "The Bay is a national treasure, and the federal government should honor its commitment to be a full Bay restoration partner. Saving the Bay is possible, and the 2010 deadline can be met if the funds are allocated.”

In Maryland, the Foundation has been calling for the state to invest at least $120 million annually, less than one-half of one percent of the State Operating Budget, in agriculture to help farmers implement proven practices for reducing pollution.

These conservation practices, such as cover crops, manure management, and buffers, are some of the most cost-effective ways to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff entering Maryland's rivers, streams, and the Bay, the foundation maintains.

Since the Bay states committed themselves in 2000 to reducing pollution through the Chesapeake Bay Program, they have achieved less than 10 percent of their nitrogen pollution reduction goals in agriculture; yet the Bay states are relying on agriculture to achieve more than half of the nitrogen pollution reduction goals, the CBF says. The foundation is calling for sustained, long-term funding to meet those commitments.

“From a Pennsylvania perspective it’s clear that fixing the Bay means that we need to first improve water quality in our own backyard,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Matt Ehrhart.

“Reducing polluted runoff will not only benefit the Bay, but will also dramatically improve the health of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams," Ehrhart said. "While it is clear that the Commonwealth is working diligently on these problems, it is also clear that without a substantial increase in funding, Pennsylvania will not meet its Chesapeake 2000 Agreement obligations.”

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Maryland National Estuarine Research Reserve in Jug Bay, Maryland is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Under the Chesapeake Bay 2000 Agreement, Maryland must reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the Bay by about 20 million pounds and reduce the amount of phosphorus by one million pounds per year. Two of the major nutrient contributors are effluent from urban land runoff and agricultural runoff from animal operations and farming.

“Saving the Bay is never going to be any clearer,” said Kim Coble, CBF Maryland executive director. “Science has shown us the solutions; we know what it is going to take. What we need, right now, is an investment and commitment to make that happen.”

In September 2005, the state of Maryland embarked on a major new environmental project to remove Corsica River from the EPA’s List of Impaired Waters. Corsica River flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

Initial projects will focus on reducing nutrient pollution and sediment runoff by implementing a comprehensive set of urban, suburban and agricultural best management practices, and restoring bay grass acreage and oyster habitat.

Maryland state agencies are working with local, federal and private partners to direct financial resources and environmental programs toward the Corsica River project.

In Virginia, the needed funding could be included the the state budget now before the legislators. “The Virginia General Assembly continues to debate a new state budget,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings. “It is critical that the legislature approve the $257 million for clean water proposed for 2007 and continue to address water pollution in the coming years. Clean water for all Virginians and for future generations depends upon it.”

In a letter to Congress April 3, all the Chesapeake Bay state governors and the head of the Chesapeake Bay Commission asked for increased funding to deal with runoff as part of the reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill in 2007.

"We are well prepared to make use of enhanced federal support," the governors wrote in a joint report that accompanied the letter. "We know the cost of the restoration. We have detailed tributary-by-tributary plans to achieve our water quality goals."

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A great blue heron on the banks of the Patuxent River, which flows into Chesapeake Bay. (Photo by Mary Hollinger courtesy NOAA)
The report is based on over 40 listening sessions, involving more than 1,000 individuals and stakeholder organizations that were held in the six state Chesapeake Bay region in 2005.

The governors wrote, "Increased federal support through the Farm Bill is of critical importance because of the major role agriculture and forestry must play if Bay states are to achieve state-developed and federally-reviewed nutrient and sediment reduction strategies for each major river system."

"Overall, the states are relying on agriculture to provide 68 percent of the nitrogen reductions, 64 percent of the phosphorus reductions and 90 percent of the sediment reductions," they wrote. "These reductions are essential and will require considerable effort and investment."

"More and more, farmers are being asked to contribute their time, effort and personal financial support to the restoration effort at a scale well beyond present funding," the governors said in their report. "Support for their work must be enhanced. Otherwise, we run the risk that agricultural lands will be lost to development, threatening our rural economy while further harming the Bay ecosystem, as conversion from farm to development often increases runoff impacts to Bay waters."

The governors recommend that the Farm Bill establish a nationwide program of “Regional Stewardship Funds,” to increase flexibility in the use of federal funds for state or multi-state water quality and stewardship initiatives in threatened or degraded watersheds.

View the report, "2007 Federal Farm Bill: Concepts for Conservation Reform in the Chesapeake Bay Region, " online at: http://www.chesbay.state.va.us/home.htm