Farmers Take the Lead on Water Quality Stewardship

July 21, 2012 04:55 AM
Farmers Take the Lead on Water Quality Stewardship

Maryland farmers do their part to clean up Chesapeake Bay Basin

Landscape-sized conservation projects aren’t for sissies. That’s what members of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) found out during a sweltering tour of the beautiful 3,300-acre DuPont Chesapeake Farms research site near Chestertown, Md., this week. This research farm and demonstration area lies within the Chesapeake Bay Basin, the largest estuary in North America.

Four decades of attempts to improve the water quality in the bay have been a study of successes, failures and persistence. While there are noted improvements, local water quality has suffered. Point and nonpoint source pollution continues to contribute to oxygen-void "dead zones," known as hypoxia in parts of the bay. However, the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental groups see progress moving in the right direction and on track to finish cleanup efforts by 2025.

Munching on crab cakes and fried chicken, the NACD group listened as Earl Garber, president-elect of NACD as well as a Louisiana farmer and crop consultant, explained the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI).

CBWI is a funding and technical assistance initiative of the Natural Resource Conservation Service carried out by 127 conservation districts and partners in the estuary. Garber noted that a 2011 NACD project that involved numerous farm visits showed that up to 30% of the conservation practices on agricultural lands aren’t counted in the 2011 Chesapeake Bay Conservation Effects Assessment Project report—essentially saying that farmers aren’t getting enough credit for their stewardship efforts.

Noting the incredible undertaking and importance of partnerships that span six states and include 150 rivers and streams that empty into the bay, Garber said that CBWI will be used as a model to make other large-scale projects more effective and efficient, and he lauded the local efforts of those involved in the bay’s cleanup. However, Garber said, results in ecological systems don't happen overnight, so it could take a long time before water quality improvements are noticed.

This group of state conservation leaders from across the U.S. saw what Maryland farmers are doing about a local problem that expands over an entire region and impacts not only local water quality, but a huge fishing and recreation industry. They left with a solid example of how to deal with water quality and soil erosion problems they may have back home.

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