Pennsylvania is responsible for two-thirds of the nitrogen reductions the EPA has required of all states in the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed. Key indicators of bay health and management practices voluntarily put in place by Pennsylvania farmers both demonstrate progress toward the goal, and toward cleaner water and healthier soil in the region.
Pennsylvania has a heavy lift. And Pennsylvania farmers have demonstrated their commitment to voluntary conservation practices — practices that have made a difference, on their own dime, and for which they don’t always get credit from the EPA in the model used to estimate nutrients going into the bay.
One of the key measures of bay health is the abundance and diversity of underwater plants. At the mouth of the Susquehanna River, where 50% of the bay’s freshwater comes from, vegetation is diverse and resilient. After disappearing completely following Hurricane Agnes 40 years ago, the underwater grasses have rebounded and withstood more recent storms. And earlier this month, a survey showed the bay’s blue crab population increased by 60% last year to the highest level in seven years. This progress is due to the hard work of Pennsylvanians.
Yes, we still have work to do, and investment is key to supporting that work — the Chesapeake Bay Foundation got that part right. The PA Farm Bill proposes several investments to extend the work we are already doing on that front — investments targeted to projects in counties where they will have the greatest impact on the health of the bay and water quality in Pennsylvania. These investments include a new Conservation Excellence Grant Program, funded at $2.5 million, to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install and implement best management practices; re-establishing the Agriculture Linked Investment Program, funded at $500,000, to fund low interest loans for the implementation of best management practices; and expanding Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) Tax Credits by $3 million, to increase the lifetime cap and increase availability.
If you look at all the evidence, Pennsylvania’s strategy is working. Farmers deserve credit for their hard work and commitment to clean water and healthy soil. The glass is two-thirds full and going in the right direction.