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DEP's revised Chesapeake Bay strategy draws $3M in federal fundsFarm Bureau, meanwhile, wants more awareness of farmers' efforts

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Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection say recently unveiled plans to improve protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed already are paying off, to the tune of $3 million.

That's how much funding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has restored to DEP in the wake of its enhanced Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, announced last week.

"This restored funding will be targeted by DEP to begin implementation of our rebooted strategy. It is a start — but only that," DEP Secretary John Quigley said.

EPA originally withheld the money because Pennsylvania was not on track to meet nitrogen and sediment reduction targets, and EPA made clear in 2015 that it would withhold funding due to the lack of progress, Quigley said.

In a letter to Quigley, EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin wrote that the agency "appreciates Pennsylvania's commitment to get back on-track with nutrient reduction measures necessary to achieve the Chesapeake Bay goals."

The plan's six elements include improved record keeping and documentation, as well as meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's goal of inspecting 10 percent of farms in the watershed to ensure development and use of manure management and agricultural erosion and sediment control plans, and enforcement for non-compliance.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania is home to 33,610 farms, DEP says. The agency conducted 592 inspections in 2014, or 1.8 percent of the total overall.

History of cuts

Restoring inspectors and funding to DEP after years of cuts has been one of the political battles fought during the long state budget process this year.

Gov. Tom Wolf had been seeking more than $89.5 million for the agency. The figure would have been a 6 percent increase for DEP, which had not seen an increase in seven years.

In the end, Wolf settled for the $87.2 million allocated to DEP under the GOP spending plan

Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, last month called that "a small step" toward overcoming DEP’s loss of 700 positions, or 14 percent of its employees, since 2008.

"We have a long way to go in our efforts to assemble additional resources and to do the work to improve local water quality in Pennsylvania, and that of the Chesapeake Bay," Quigley said Tuesday.

The restored funding primarily will support installation of best management practices by farmers and the operations of county conservation districts, DEP said.

EPA will award the funds to DEP when federal budget authority for the new fiscal year is finalized.

Farm Bureau's response

The Cumberland County-based Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, meanwhile, is encouraging farmers to fill out a new survey that measures what they are doing to improve water quality — something the bureau suggests federal officials have downplayed.

"Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have doled out a lot of their own hard-earned money to pay for a wide variety of environmentally-friendly practices that improve water quality, but those efforts have not been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency in its calculations measuring nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions in the watershed," said Rick Ebert the farm bureau's president..

"The goal of this survey is to document on-the-ground activities implemented by farmers so Pennsylvania agriculture gets the credit it deserves for reducing nutrients in the watershed," he added.

Penn State University’s Survey Research Center is administering the survey, which was developed collaboratively with various state agencies, Penn State, the farm bureau and others in the agricultural community.

"We know that a significant number of farmers in the watershed have voluntarily installed riparian buffers, stream bank fencing, barnyard runoff controls and other measures to reduce runoff into waterways," Ebert said, as well as conservation-friendly practices such as no-till and cover crops to reduce soil erosion and runoff into streams

"We’re hopeful that the information collected from the survey will provide DEP, and ultimately EPA, a more accurate assessment of what farmers are doing to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment into the watershed," he added.

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Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @rogerdupuis2.

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