There are a couple of big happenings in the world of Chesapeake Bay restoration in regards to farmers in the region- and for those out of the region too, since the Bay is likely to be the model for other watersheds across the country.
First, as of May 11, 2010, a federal judge found that the EPA has failed in its responsibility to ensure the Clean Water Act, and must now act to do so.
Next, a new multi-agency federal strategy has just been unveiled for protecting and restoring the health of the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay region and its communities. This strategy was developed under the Executive Order issued by President Obama a year ago that designated the bay as a national treasure and enacted a new multi-tier action and accountability scheme.
For farmers in the watershed, this means:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide farmers and forest owners throughout the bay watershed with the resources to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorous out of local waterways.
- USDA will target federal funding to the places where it will have the greatest water quality impact and will ensure that agricultural producers’ conservation efforts are accurately reported.
- USDA will also lead a federal initiative to develop a watershed-wide environmental services market that would allow producers to generate tradable water quality credits in return for installing effective conservation practices.
In summary, the Executive Order Plan is final, a key court case is closed—and all that’s left is actually doing the work!
This is where we are focused. Within the region’s four million acres of agricultural land, we are supporting viable farms and clean water by helping farmers adopt conservation practices that reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, by securing farmland protection measures and working with agricultural and environmental partners on sensible policies and programs. Change is coming and we want farmers to have the necessary tools to meet new regulations and requirements set to clean the Chesapeake Bay.
The EPA is asking for very specific assurances from Chesapeake states to reduce the nutrients and sediment that make their way into waterways and eventually the Bay and we think that farmers need greater flexibility in how they choose to meet these new requirements and limits. Farmland is essential to water quality in the Bay, so we must ensure that regulations help clean the bay while still letting farmers run the successful business necessary to keep the land in agriculture- if not, the farm will likely be sold to developers and we will lose yet another farm, and with it, our most cost effective way to clean the Chesapeake Bay.
AFT has been busy working with individuals and organizations in the region to achieve this balancing act. It is a long road ahead, but we are certain of a future where the Chesapeake Bay is a thriving ecosystem, not in spite of the surrounding farmland, but because of it.
About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust.