Federal regulators are working with partners in Pennsylvania to help select farms reduce pollution that’s flowing to the Chesapeake Bay.
Pennsylvania has been lagging behind other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed on pollution reduction goals. The Environmental Protection Agency stepped up oversight in the commonwealth last year, after the state’s plan to lower nutrient runoff to the Bay failed to meet goals set for 2025.
Agriculture accounts for about 90% of the remaining reductions needed to meet those goals.
Through the Pennsylvania Conservation Assessment Initiative, EPA, the Lancaster County Conservation District, and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau are working with five farms in Lancaster County on planning and accessing new state money meant for agricultural conservation.
Pennsylvania authorized $154 million in last year’s budget for technical assistance and best management practices for farmers. Of that, Lancaster County is slated to get $15 million.
The EPA program focuses on animal operations with a high potential for improving local water quality through better management practices, such as keeping livestock out of streams, planting buffers along waterways, and securing storage of manure until it’s ready to be spread on fields.
“All those types of practices can show a well-managed farm where the nutrients stay on the farm where you want them and not in the local streams,” said Kelly Shenk, Regional Agriculture Advisor with EPA.
Shenk said EPA will use the data from these five farms to see if the outreach efforts were successful and if they can be repeated.
EPA recently reached a settlement with Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other bay states over the agency’s enforcement actions for Pennsylvania’s pollution. This program is not a result of the settlement, which is still open to public comment.
EPA Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz said Pennsylvania presents a unique challenge that requires local partners.
“It’s not just that we have tens of thousands of small farms in the commonwealth, but a range of religious traditions from Mennonite and Amish and all the different sects, and to be able to be culturally conversant to get that buy-in on conservation,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said proof that the initiative benefits the farms and water quality downstream will encourage buy-in from other farmers.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.