Local farmers and conservation officials hope to get a significant boost from $28.7 million in funding announced this month, which will go toward Pennsylvania’s environmental efforts to reduce runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
The announcement comes at a pivotal time, as the state has tasked local conservation agencies with carrying out farm inspections and issuing compliance actions, rather than serving solely as technical advisors as they have previously.
“We don’t know how much of this will actually go toward funding best management practices, or technical services, or other on-the-ground efforts,” said Carl Goshorn, Cumberland County Conservation District manager. “Hopefully, we will see some additional resources in these programs.”
The total funding package comes from three sources, according to BJ Small, spokesman for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The United States Department of Agriculture is putting just under $13 million into Pennsylvania, in conjunction with nearly $12 million in funding from the commonwealth itself. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has simultaneously allocated $4 million.
The funding announcement comes shortly after the CBF’s call last month for the USDA to provide $20 million of federal environmental remediation funds toward five south-central Pennsylvania counties, including Cumberland.
These five counties, the CBF found, contain the vast majority of the agricultural runoff that is responsible for Pennsylvania falling behind its commitments to the federal Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
“We don’t know the specific distribution of the funds yet, but the governor’s office is mentioning high-priority areas, and you would certainly get the most bang for your buck with the five counties we identified,” Small said.
The federal blueprint, started in 2010, identifies reduction goals for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment inflows to the Chesapeake Bay. These three parts of the water supply are largely responsible for changes in bay chemistry that have resulted in algae blooms, fish stock declines, and other issues.
The blueprint calls for 60 percent of pollution reduction practices to be in place by 2017, and the rest by 2025. Pennsylvania, however, is throwing the plan off track. Nitrogen runoff, for instance, should be cut by 40.7 million pounds per year by 2017, but is tracking to only 18.7 million pounds.
Of this 22 million pound shortfall, 86 percent is attributable to Pennsylvania agriculture, according to a Bay Foundation study.
The issue is Pennsylvania’s high concentration of farms, particularly in Cumberland, York, Lancaster, Franklin and Adams counties. These five counties combined produce 40 percent of the state’s livestock sales.
Individual farmers, however, may find it difficult reduce their output of bay contaminants without help. Funding and technical assistance is needed to create planting buffers around streams, install better manure pits, introduce new tilling patterns, and take on other practices that reduce runoff and erosion.
Grant funding to help farmers in these efforts comes from state and federal sources, although Goshorn noted that money for more capital intensive efforts had dwindled prior to recent renewed efforts.
“In the past, the state’s Chesapeake Bay Program had funds available for the physical construction in best management practices,” Goshorn said. “In the last couple years, there hasn’t been much money available for those; it’s been more passive practices like tilling, buffer crops, etc.”