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Feb. 7, 2017 -- Chesapeake Bay Special Projects Funding Program Announcement and Application Webinar 

2016 SURVEY PROVIDES FIRST DOCUMENTATION OF FARMERS’ VOLUNTARY WATER QUALITY BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Results of the 2016 survey of Pennsylvania farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed were announced on December 15. Based on survey responses and on-site verification, they provide the first official documentation that many farmers have implemented a number of best management practices (BMPs) voluntarily and at their own expense to reduce the nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment levels entering local streams and rivers and, ultimately, the bay.

DEP, the Department of Agriculture, Penn State, and other stakeholders partnered on the survey, which was completed by 6,782 farmers in 41 counties.

DEP held a live media webinar on the survey at 10:00 am on December 16. DEP Acting Patrick McDonnell; Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding; Matthew Royer, director of the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center; and Rich Batiuk, Associate Director for Science, Analysis and Implementation at the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office discussed the survey process and results and what they mean for cleaning up local waters and charting Pennsylvania’s progress on its bay watershed goals.

Respondents reported implementing and covering the cost of the following BMPs: 

  • 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 agricultural erosion and sedimentation control plans
  • 228,264 acres of conservation plans
  • More than 1.3 million linear feet of stream-bank fencing
  • 1,757 acres of grass riparian buffers
  • 5,808 acres of forested riparian buffers
The survey is important for three reasons:  

1. They confirm that Pennsylvania farmers are doing water-quality protection work that has previously been unaccounted for and can be factored into the documentation of Pennsylvania’s progress on its Chesapeake Bay Watershed goals. 

2. These results underscore that our water protection strategies and programs must be based on good, accurate data. This is necessary to our ability to target resources to meet the recommendations and action items put forth last January by Governor Wolf in Pennsylvania’s Bay Restoration Strategy. Moreover, having accurate data is key to developing Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan, ensuring a plan that is accurate, realistic, and implementable.  

3. Finally, the survey protocol is replicable—giving us a reliable method for documenting farmers’ best management practices in the future, as we work to ensure that all efforts are counted in charting Pennsylvania’s progress on meeting its bay watershed goals.

With 33,600 active Pennsylvania farms in the watershed, notes DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell, “Achieving our water quality improvement goals is no easy task. Any solution must balance our interest in both improving local water quality and maintaining a vibrant agricultural sector. This survey acknowledges that agriculture is part of the solution.”

Release/Waiver Form for Inspections

The primary purpose for this Release/Waiver form is to address concerns the Department heard from a number of Districts relative to the confidentiality clauses in Section 1619 of the 2008 Food, Energy and Conservation Act, the Districts’ co-operative agreement with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the farm inspections that have been included in the Delegation Agreements for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  This Release/Waiver form was created in order to assist Department and Conservation District inspectors with the task of communicating and documenting the farmer’s voluntary release of a nutrient management, manure management or agricultural erosion and sediment control plan to a District or Department inspector.  This Department form cites Pennsylvania law and provides notice that if plans are provided for compliance with Pennsylvania law; they will be subject to the Commonwealth’s open records laws. 

It is very important to emphasize that the Department is
not advocating for the collection of these plans.  What the Department has contracted with the district field staff to do is, at a minimum, ask to see the relevant plan(s) and review them on site for fundamental elements (a checklist of those elements has been provided to districts by the Department). Where a farmer is willing to provide a copy of the plan(s) to the District or Department inspector, the inspector is able to accept a copy from the farmer. Submittal of these plans is strictly voluntary. Do not obtain a copy of any plan from NRCS or district files on your own.  If a farmer does want to release the plan, the Department would prefer that the Department’s Release/Waiver form be used since Conservation District field staff are working pursuant to a Delegation Agreement with the Department for this work.  The Department does not believe the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Release form applies to the work that the Commonwealth has contracted with a District to perform. Only farmers who wish to provide a copy of their plan(s) to the district and/or Department pursuant to the Delegated inspections should be asked to execute the Commonwealth’s Release/Waiver form. 


Farm 

PA'S RESTORATION STRATEGY

Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy presents an important issue to the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania and throughout the watershed, and must be managed to achieve the goals of having both clean water and viable farms.

The agriculture industry is responsible for contributing three-quarters of the total nutrient reductions expected of states by 2025. That's a sizeable sum, and no small task, but we know there are countless farmers who are doing their part.

One of Pennsylvania's big challenges is that of antiquated data. To date, DEP has only been able to load data on cost-share BMPs into the EPA Bay model and not non-cost-share BMPs.

As a means to rectify the absence of non-cost-share BMPs in the Bay model, DEP and PDA are collaborating with Penn State and other stakeholders to complete a comprehensive, voluntary farm survey to locate, quantify and verify previously undocumented BMPs.

We want Pennsylvania farmers to obtain maximum credit, both publicly and in the Bay model, for the good work they are doing to restore local water quality.

DEP is also working to set up a state of the art mobile platform for data collection across the entire watershed that will provide a standardized method of delivery for all county conservation districts.

PA'S RESTORATION STRATEGY --- DEVELOPMENT OF PROCEDURES FOR CONDUCTING FARM INSPECTIONS

DEP has worked in close cooperation with representatives of the State Conservation Commission, the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, and several individual conservation districts to develop a final Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and inspection report form for conservation district and DEP staff to follow when completing the inspections called for as part of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy.

As of this date, 28 counties are participating in the farm inspection program and will receive funding from DEP to support bay technician staff:  Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana (covered in agreement with Cambria), Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union and Wyoming counties. In addition to the nine counties that chose not to continue their funding for a  Bay Technician, three other counties with a small number of farms within the Bay watershed will have farm inspections done by DEP personnel: Somerset, Wayne, and Cameron.

Links to the SOP, and inspection report are available below. These documents will be updated over time as conservation districts and DEP gain experience under the inspection program. Implementation will begin in fall of 2016.

On Jan. 21, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a comprehensive strategy to "reboot" the state's efforts to improve water quality in the commonwealth and the bay. The strategy, developed by DEP in consultation with departments of Agriculture and Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), as well as the State Conservation Commission, relies on a mix of technical and financial assistance for farmers, technology, expanded data gathering, improved program coordination and capacity and – only when necessary – stronger enforcement and compliance measures.

Pennsylvania's BMP Verification Program

The Chesapeake Bay Program has called for increased transparency and scientific rigor in the verification of the best management practices that are implemented as part of the states' Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

To respond to this request, Strengthening Verification of Best Management Practices Implemented in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: A Basinwide Framework, Report and Documentation from the Chesapeake Bay Program Water Quality Goal Implementation Team's BMP Verification Committee (Verification Framework) (Chesapeake Bay Program 2014), was developed. The Verification Framework is intended to serve as a guide for the states to document the methodology for verification of BMP installation, function, and continued effectiveness of practices over time. This Verification Framework provides the requirements for reporting and documentation of practice verification for the states to follow. Specific guidance is provided for each of the source sectors (agriculture, forestry, urban stormwater, wastewater, wetlands, and streams).