The Bulletin

Bay states seek new federal funding initiative for farm cleanup

By: and - September 8, 2021 12:04 am

The West Branch of the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)

Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina Ring and her counterparts from the five other Chesapeake Bay states are seeking a sit-down with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss a proposal to pump extra federal funding into a concerted effort to clean up the Bay.

Ring and the other state  agriculture officials are embracing a proposal from the Chesapeake Bay Commission to create a Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative, which would tap $737 million in federal funding over the next decade to help clean up nutrient and sediment pollution from farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In their letter to Vilsack, dated Aug. 25, the state leaders noted that federal cleanup mandates for the Bay, which provide goals for each state in the watershed, must be met by 2025, and that 80 percent of the remaining pollution reductions the federal government is seeking are being imposed on the agricultural sector. The officials said states would find it easier to meet their cleanup goals with dedicated federal funding that aids farmers.

“We know we have a receptive audience for voluntary cost-share programs designed to achieve these restoration goals,” Ring and her counterparts from West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania wrote. “What we lack is the necessary capacity, both human and financial.”

The Chesapeake Bay watershed. Image from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The officials said new sources of funding would be needed to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals, and suggested that the U.S. Agriculture Department was uniquely equipped to help them find it.

Earlier this year, representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Commission including current commission Chair David Bulova, a Democratic state delegate from Fairfax, wrote Vilsack that “without additional resources from our federal partners to assist farmers in the bay watershed, we will not meet our goals.”

Modeled after the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which Vilsack created in 2009, the Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative would pool various federal agricultural funding programs and target them for Bay cleanup.

“This funding would primarily target those sub-watersheds — particularly the Susquehanna River — known to have the greatest influence on the Chesapeake Bay and offer the most cost-effective solutions,” the agriculture leaders wrote to Vilsack in their Aug. 25 letter. “This is particularly true in Pennsylvania, where agriculture is heavily concentrated and the rural nature of the Susquehanna River watershed means agriculture is the dominant source of excess nutrients in the commonwealth’s waters.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) endorsed the idea on Tuesday. He said a regional initiative would help farmers and regulators create more sustainable agriculture practices that reduce nitrogen output, improve water quality, and would mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

“Last week, we all saw the devastating and deadly impacts of climate change as Hurricane Ida swept across our nation,” Wolf said.

“Farmers are waiting to jump into action,” he added. “We just need support, as was provided to the Mississippi River Basin, to get moving.”


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Josh Kurtz
Josh Kurtz

Josh Kurtz is editor and co-founder of Maryland Matters, which, like the Virginia Mercury, is part of The Newsroom network of sites covering state capitals.

Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is the Mercury's environment and energy reporter, covering everything from utility regulation to sea level rise. Originally from McLean, she has spent over a decade in journalism and academic publishing. She previously worked as a staff reporter for Chesapeake Bay Journal, the Progress-Index and the Caroline Progress, and her work has been twice honored by the Virginia Press Association as "Best in Show" for online writing. She was chosen for the 2020 cohort of the Columbia Energy Journalism Institute and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]