Federal officials launch bay farm cleanup project

Growers in three watersheds targeted for extra funds, help

June 17, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Federal officials are launching efforts today in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to enlist farmers in targeted watersheds in a concerted effort to curb pollution running off their land.

The upper Chester River, a 23,000-acre swath of mostly rural land on the Eastern Shore, is the Maryland watershed targeted for a special effort by federal, state and nonprofit agencies.

The aim of the "showcase watersheds," a U.S. Department of Agriculture official said Thursday, is to demonstrate that voluntary cooperation, aided by generous infusions of federal funds, can help restore degraded bay waters without the need for further government regulation of agriculture.

"We want to show that the voluntary approach does work," said Kari Cohen, a senior adviser on natural resources and the environment at USDA. He said additional staff and funds will be targeted to the watersheds to expand farm conservation practices and to measure their effects on water quality.

"Agriculture remains a key part of the solution to the Chesapeake Bay restoration," Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a statement. The showcase watersheds are among the initiatives pledged in the Obama administration's strategy for jump-starting the bay restoration, which was unveiled in May.

Officials hope to contact all 80 farmers in the upper Chester watershed to encourage them to adopt conservation practices, such as planting pollution-absorbing cover crops in winter, fencing livestock out of streams and leaving natural buffers between fields and waterways. Funds earmarked for Chesapeake Bay cleanup in the 2008 federal farm bill — nearly $10 million this year for Maryland alone — will be tapped to pay half to three-fourths of the farmers' costs of adopting the practices.

Patricia Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said her group welcomes the federal initiative, which should aid local efforts to help farmers reduce their impact on water quality.

Also targeted for special attention are the Conewago Creek watershed in Central Pennsylvania and the Smith Creek watershed in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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