Oct 02, 2015

USDA Commits $4 Million to Improve Chesapeake Bay Water Quality

Federal-state partnerships will accelerate stream and riverside tree plantings

USDA Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that in a first round of funding, USDA will commit $4 million to several states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to help agricultural landowners with accelerating stream and riverbank tree plantings that can reduce soil sedimentation, field and animal waste runoff, improving water quality.

The states of Delaware, New York, Virginia and West Virginia have each been approved for an additional $1 million under the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to increase or maintain acres enrolled in Chesapeake Bay Riparian Forest Buffer conservation. USDA challenged the states to craft a proposal during a Chesapeake Bay summit in Washington, D.C. last summer. In addition to the increased incentives for landowners, Farm Service Agency offices in Maryland and Pennsylvania will receive support to partner with stakeholders for improved outreach and technical assistance.

"By joining federal funds with state resources, the Obama Administration continues its partnership with the Chesapeake Bay stakeholders who are working to make the health of the watershed better than ever," said Michael Scuse, USDA under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.

"The 2014 Farm Bill has enabled USDA to support expanded conservation practices on crop, pasture and private forestland in the bay," said Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for natural resources and environment. "Working with our partners, including farmers, nonprofit and private organizations, local and state governments, and individuals, we are leveraging federal dollars to reduce nutrient and sediment losses. This would not be possible without the voluntary efforts of land owners and widespread public support."

State awardees will combine the federal funds with a state match of 20% to conduct more environmental studies to expand eligible counties, improve outreach and educational efforts, and provide higher financial incentives to encourage more agricultural landowners to participate in the tree restoration efforts.

Since 1996, USDA has worked with the six bay states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) to establish more than 7,000 miles of stream and riverside trees, known as riparian forest buffers. To date, about $500 million in USDA funds have been provided to farmers enrolling land in CREP projects. In 2013, the CREP projects prevented an estimated eight million tons of sediment, 16 million pounds of nitrogen, and four million pounds of phosphorus from entering the waters of the watershed.

This year marks the 30th year of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program, a federally-funded voluntary program that contracts with agricultural producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is not farmed or ranched, but instead used for conservation benefits.

This announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic investments made in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer.