Watersheds designed to increase voluntary conservation in Chesapeake Bay basin

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HERSHEY, PA, June 18, 2010 -- Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today unveiled three showcase watersheds designed to demonstrate what can be achieved by combining strong partnerships, sound science and funding to solve natural resource problems in a targeted area in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The showcase watersheds are designed to demonstrate water quality improvements in a confined geographic area through expanded producer outreach efforts, use of innovative conservation practices and intensive conservation planning, implementation and monitoring.

"Agriculture remains a key part of the solution to the Chesapeake Bay restoration," Merrigan said as she announced the showcase watersheds at a picturesque farm in Pennsylvania's showcase watershed. "The showcase watersheds strengthen USDA's commitment to funding priority conservation practices in places that will do the most good for water quality in the Bay and its tributaries."

The showcase watershed concept was included in the Obama Administration's federal strategy for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, released on May 12, 2010. The strategy details the federal government's commitment to restoring critical components of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed over the next 15 years.

The three showcase watersheds are the 23,000-acre Upper Chester River Watershed in Maryland's Eastern Shore; the 34,000-acre Conewago Creek Watershed in Central Pennsylvania, where Merrigan announced the showcase watersheds; and the 67,000-acre Smith Creek Watershed in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The goal of USDA and its partners is to reach out to 100 percent of the agricultural producers in each watershed to gauge their current level of conservation treatment and explain additional technical and financial assistance opportunities available through various conservation programs.

Maryland and Virginia also held events today at farms in their showcase watersheds with USDA high-level representatives serving as keynote speakers. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman served as the keynote speaker at the Upper Chester Watershed event in Maryland and Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills spoke at the Smith Creek Watershed event in Virginia.

USDA and its federal partners announced funding, resources and restoration goals for the watersheds during the events. In each of the three watersheds, USDA has committed additional funding and staff toward this effort. The Environmental Protection Agency is providing funding to support coordination and nutrient management activities. The U.S. Geological Survey plans to assist with monitoring to evaluate the water quality impacts of the increased conservation treatment.

Each showcase watershed also is supported by a diverse group of non-governmental partners, including local watershed groups and non-profits that are committing substantial resources to the coordinated effort.

The three showcase watersheds are one component of USDA's strategy to improve natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. USDA is responsible for implementing new conservation practices on four million acres of agricultural land through 2025. Farmers and forest owners throughout the watershed will have access to resources to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of the bay's streams, creeks and rivers. USDA will target federal funding to locations where it will have the greatest water quality impact and ensure that agricultural producers' conservation efforts are accurately reported and credited.

USDA's work in the Chesapeake Bay is funded, in large part, by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), one of the largest single federal investments in the clean-up effort. CBWI, established in the 2008 Farm Bill, provided an unprecedented $188 million from 2009 -- 2012 to support restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.

For more information about NRCS Chesapeake Bay activities, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/chesapeakebay.html.

NRCS is celebrating 75 years helping people help the land in 2010. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

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