HARRISBURG, Pa. — It was a combination reality check and celebration of partnerships already forged.
For three hours, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and local governments discussed Phase 2 of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) and the local successes leading up to it.
More than 50 people gathered at the Keystone Conference Center at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex to discuss how best to pursue further success for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
Jim Edward of the EPA reviewed the events that pulled the states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed into the process.
He described how the “watershed states” of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia were taken to task by the federal government and told they needed to reduce their nutrient load into the Chesapeake Bay.
Under the EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program, each state has been put on a nutrient diet to reduce its share of the total load.
Edward talked about the challenges of the “dead zone,” an area where the water is deprived of oxygen. The dead zone this year is the largest it has ever been, he said.
Looking on the positive side, Edward also said that, when 1985 is compared with 2009, there has been a marked improvement.
“While people said we did not make progress, we really did,” he said.
Phase 2 will begin this year as the watershed states work on developing the next part of the WIP plan while continuing to implement Phase 1 programs.
This spring, EPA developed guidelines to assist the states.
“The goal is to facilitate implementation by bridging the gap between the shoes in the cube and the boots on the ground,” Edward said. “Like shoes, one size does not fit all.”
John Hines, DEP executive deputy secretary for programs, said this process was “about the people” addressing the bay cleanup. WIP places a tall order on Pennsylvania, where 40,000 farms and more than 1,200 municipalities call the watershed home, he said.
The WIP includes two-year milestones to help states mark a continual progress to the final goal. Hines said the strategy will require a multiagency organizational effort to focus on the items that will bring the greatest progress toward meeting the milestones.
DEP has planned regional meetings with the municipalities to begin taking the wider vision of the WIP to the local level.
Denise Coleman, the USDA-NRCS state conservationist, said her agency’s goal is to focus on priority watersheds and on improving adaptation of conservation practices.
She said the focus has included finding areas with high nitrogen loads and working with local offices to see if different questions need to be asked in the ranking process.
In addition to talking about how to make the WIP work, summit organizers brought in local groups to discuss the impact their programs are already making.
From Lebanon County, Lynette Gelsinger of the county conservation district along with Susan Richards of the Capital Region RC&D discussed a peer-to-peer no-till mentoring program that set up a network to link experienced no-till farmers and novices.
Before the grant for the program, Lebanon County was a low adapter of no-till. Since the program was established, Lebanon County has grown to the highest level of farmers in no-till cropping systems.
The grant is over, but Gelsinger said the program “is not over in any way” as the discussion of no-till practices continues.
Mike McCaskey, vice president of marketing development for Energyworks, talked about a manure gasification project in Gettysburg. He described the challenges of getting the project off the ground and the differences between ordinary best management practices (BMPs) and building a “high-tech BMP.”
More needs to be done at the state and federal level to foster this type of project development, he said.
Don McNutt from the Lancaster County Conservation District talked about how he has seen a dream come into reality — the Warwick Watershed Project in Warwick Township.
The project began with an outreach from the township asking the conservation district how it could make sure all its farms had conservation plans.
Acting in partnership with the township, Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, ag consultants and the NRCS, the district has worked with township farmers to ensure that their farms have conservation plans. Today, 99 percent of the farms do.
McNutt said other townships are looking at this plan and deciding how a similar program would work for them.
According to McNutt, the return on investment has been positive. He said there is improved water quality, reduced runoff and a drop in plan development costs.
Charlotte Katzenmoyer described how Lancaster city is embracing green infrastructure to capture stormwater, a key element to the WIP strategy.
In the closing panel, members of the state’s WIP strategy team talked about what’s next.
“We really need to take this Phase 2 to focus on some of the local efforts that are happening on the ground,” Hines said.
Harry Campbell of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it will be important to get down to “individual levels” so that farmers, landowners, homeowners and others will know what they need to do in the next phase.
Mike Pechart, deputy secretary of agriculture, said farmers continue to do their part, but he reminded the audience that agriculture is a stressed industry.
However, despite the financial challenges they face, farmers on their own “will move forward with the project when its feasible” if state, federal or private grants are unavailable for a BMP.