Efforts to reduce nutrient runoff from Amish farms in Pennsylvania, from dairy herds in Maryland and through nutrient trading initiatives in Virginia were among the projects supported by the first-ever targeted watershed grants announced for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A total of $7.7 million, primarily from the EPA, but with additional funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, will help to pay for 10 projects throughout the watershed aimed at testing innovative nutrient and sediment control efforts.

One project, for instance, will test whether commercial oyster production in Virginia can reduce nutrient pollution reliably enough to be counted toward meeting the region’s nutrient reduction goals. Another project will create wetlands and a series of other natural buffers to control stormwater runoff in Pennsylvania’s Paxton Creek.

“Nutrient pollution from agricultural and stormwater runoff is the greatest challenge facing the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort,” said EPA Region III Administrator Donald Welsh. “These projects demonstrate how we can rise to that challenge by engaging farmers, homeowners, governments, businesses, academics and nonprofits in developing and implementing sustainable, cost-effective solutions.”

Together, the Bay Program estimates, the 10 projects will prevent more than 9 million pounds of nitrogen and nearly 7 million pounds of phosphorous from entering the Bay annually. The projects reduce pollution from a range of sources and explore market-based incentives to encourage a more widespread implementation of pollution-fighting programs.

“By taking a serious look at cost effectiveness and market-based incentives, these projects have the potential to be expanded and replicated throughout the Bay watershed,” said Tom Kelsch, conservation director with the foundation. “These grants can dramatically improve the health of the Bay—its water quality, its habitat, and its fish and wildlife.”

Chesapeake Bay Trust Executive Director David O’Neill said the program “challenged grantees to take a comprehensive look at the nutrient problem in their watersheds and to develop innovative techniques to implementation and marketing that will chart the course for the Bay restoration effort into the future.”

The targeted watershed grants program was created by the EPA to demonstrate new approaches to control nonpoint sources of nutrients in the watershed. A second round of grants, stemming from $5.9 million that was included in this year’s budget, is expected to be announced later this year.

The fate of the program for next year is uncertain. The Bush administration called for spending $6 million on Maryland’s Corsica River Project, which is targeting multiple initiatives in a single watershed to show significant results, in its 2007 budget. But the House Appropriations Committee wants to use the money to continue the targeted watershed grants program. The Senate has not acted.

The targeted watershed grants differ from the Small Watershed Grants Program—which provides funds of less than $50,000 for local restoration projects—by providing larger sums to projects that are expected to produce measurable results.

Proposed projects are reviewed by a steering committee. Grant recipients must provide at least 25 percent in matching funds and in-kind services to support the projects.

This round of Targeted Watersheds Grants includes:

Regional Nutrient Use Efficiency in the Lower Susquehanna River Basin: The group Environmental Defense will work directly with 350 farmers in the Lower Susquehanna River Basin to improve on-farm nutrient use efficiency, including Plain Sect farmers who may be reluctant to participate in government-sponsored programs. The goal is to reduce nitrogen loads to the Susquehanna by 2 million pounds from 42,000 acres of farmland.

Park the Plow for Profit - A Continuous No-Till Transition Program: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will lead a project in three counties to facilitate the conversion of 12,750 acres of cropland to continuous no-till agriculture. This conversion will reduce the annual nitrogen load to the Susquehanna River by more than 99,000 pounds, and the annual phosphorous load by more than 17,000 pounds.

Innovative BMP Strategies in the Choptank River Watershed: The Maryland Department of Agriculture will lead a project to work with farmers in the Choptank River watershed to increase agricultural best management practice implementation to reduce nutrient and sediment loads by developing new tools to help identify the most cost-effective opportunities for implementing BMPs. The project expects to reduce annual nitrogen pollution to the Tuckahoe subbasin by more than 31,000 pounds.

Cost Effective Nutrient Reduction in the Upper Susquehanna River Watershed: The Upper Susquehanna Coalition will integrate prescribed grazing by dairy herds with riparian preservation and restoration approaches on agricultural land in New York to reduce annual nutrient pollution to the Upper Susquehanna River by more than 43,000 pounds of nitrogen and 4,000 pounds of phosphorous.

Enhancing Nutrient Efficiencies on Dairy Farms in the Monocacy River Watershed: The University of Maryland will lead a project to work directly with at least 20 farms in the Monocacy watershed to reduce nutrient losses by as much as 30–40 percent through the adoption of precision feeding to reduce the nutrient overfeeding of animals; by developing a manure clearinghouse to broker the exchange of manure between farms with excess manure and those needing fertilizer for crops; and, encouraging cover crop planting through farm-friendly delivery systems such as aerial planting. The project expects to reduce annual nitrogen pollution to the Monocacy River by close to 250,000 pounds.

North River Watershed - Utilizing & Exporting Shenandoah Valley Organic Resources: As an outgrowth of the 2005 Waste Solutions Forum—a partnership of industry trade groups, environmental groups, conservation districts and others—will demonstrate a comprehensive approach to managing excess animal manure and poultry litter in the North River Watershed of the Shenandoah Valley that includes bioenergy production, reducing nutrient content in manure and finding markets for manure. The project expects to reduce annual nitrogen pollution to the North River by more than 6.3 million pounds, and annual phosphorous pollution by more than 6.8 million pounds.

Corsica River Watershed - A Community Response to Pollution Runoff: The Chesapeake Bay Recovery Partnership will lead a project to engage residents in implementing nonstructural best management practices to control stormwater and help private land owners gain access to technical and financial resources to implement practices such as wetland restoration, biorentention projects, grassed swale improvements, reforestation and pollution prevention activities. The project will result in the treatment of 50 acres of urban/suburban lands through the integration of 200 innovative nonstructural BMPs on privately held lands, as well as restore 10 acres of wetlands and create of 50 acres of riparian buffers.

Paxton Creek Watershed - Stormwater Management for Pennsylvania Communities: The Susquehanna River Basin Commission will use the Paxton Creek Watershed as a model to develop a multijurisdictional stormwater management in the greater Harrisburg area that will implement five stormwater demonstration projects, including the restoration of a wetland corridor and a recreational “green space” with bioretention measures on a former brownfield among other actions. The demonstration projects combined will treat runoff from more than 30 acres and will restore and stabilize 4,000 feet of stream corridor.

Effective Strategies for Reducing Nutrient Loads in the Opequon Creek Watershed: Virginia Tech will lead an effort to use proven and innovative best management practices to accelerate nutrient reduction in the Opequon Creek Watershed to reduce annual nitrogen pollution to the Bay by 108,000 pounds, and phosphorous pollution by 13,500 pounds, which will allow the Frederick-Winchester Service Authority to obtain nutrient offset credits for wastewater treatment plan expansion.

Nutrient Assimilation Credits - Opportunities for Enhanced Oyster Production: Virginia Tech is partnering with Virginia Commonwealth University and two oyster producers to demonstrate and assess the potential for commercial oyster production to be credited with water quality improvements under Chesapeake Bay water quality trading and offset programs.

Information about the Targeted Watershed Grants Program and the individual projects is available at the Bay Program web site, www.chesapeakebay.net