USDA commits $4M in several states to improve Chesapeake Bay water quality

In a first round of funding, the USDA announced that it will commit $4 million to several states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to help agricultural landowners accelerate stream and riverbank tree plantings that can reduce soil sedimentation and field and animal waste runoff.

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 2, 2015 -- In a first round of funding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will commit $4 million to several states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to help agricultural landowners with accelerating stream and riverbank tree plantings that can reduce soil sedimentation and field and animal waste runoff, ultimately improving water quality.

Delaware, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia have each been approved for an additional $1 million under the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to increase or maintain acres enrolled in Chesapeake Bay Riparian Forest Buffer conservation. Likewise, USDA has challenged the states to craft a proposal. In addition to the increased incentives for landowners, Farm Service Agency offices in Maryland and Pennsylvania will receive support to partner with stakeholders for improved outreach and technical assistance.

"The 2014 Farm Bill has enabled USDA to support expanded conservation practices on crop, pasture and private forestland in the bay," said Robert Bonnie, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. "Working with our partners -- including farmers, nonprofit and private organizations, local and state governments, and individuals -- we are leveraging federal dollars to reduce nutrient and sediment losses. This would not be possible without the voluntary efforts of land owners and widespread public support."

State awardees will combine the federal funds with a state match of 20 percent to conduct more environmental studies to expand eligible counties, improve outreach and educational efforts, and provide higher financial incentives to encourage more agricultural landowners to participate in the tree restoration efforts.

Since 1996, USDA has worked with the six bay states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) to establish more than 7,000 miles of stream and riverside trees, known as riparian forest buffers. To date, about $500 million in USDA funds have been provided to farmers enrolling land in CREP projects. In 2013, the CREP projects prevented an estimated eight million tons of sediment, 16 million pounds of nitrogen, and four million pounds of phosphorus from entering the waters of the watershed.

This year marks the 30th year of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program, a federally-funded voluntary program that contracts with agricultural producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is not farmed or ranched, but instead used for conservation benefits. Program participants establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as "covers") to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat.

In return, USDA provides participants with cost-share assistance for establishing the covers with annual payments for land in the conservation contract. With CREP, high-priority regional conservation goals are identified by local, state, or tribal governments or non-governmental organizations, and the federal funds and resources of the Conservation Reserve Program are supplemented with the non-federal funds and resources to achieve those goals.

See also:

"USDA, EPA partner to provide new resources supporting water quality trading"

"USDA invests $21M for water conservation, resilience across drought-stricken states"

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