The Bay region took the first step toward getting a bigger slice of the Farm Bill pie in May when the initial draft of the Farm Bill in the House Agriculture Committee included a special provision to help the Chesapeake.
It would establish a “Chesapeake Bay Program for Nutrient Reduction and Sediment Control” that would be authorized to spend a total of $100 million over five years to control nutrient and sediment from farms in the watershed.
The money would be used to implement a comprehensive plan, to be written by the U.S. agriculture secretary in consultation with the states and other federal agencies, to improve water quality in the Bay, restore habitats and increase economic opportunity for farmers and rural communities.
Activities would be prioritized toward the Susquehanna, Shenandoah and Patuxent rivers.
Language in the draft bill also calls for making the U.S. agriculture secretary a member of the Chesapeake Executive Council. The council is the top policy-making body for the Bay cleanup effort and includes the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; the EPA administrator; the District of Columbia mayor, and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.
Although the funding levels are less than regional lawmakers are pushing for in their own version of the Farm Bill, Doug Siglin, federal affairs director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said it was an accomplishment simply to be included in the first draft of the bill and it puts supporters in a better position to press for more funding.
“It’s certainly a good start,” Siglin said. “At this point in the legislative process we’re really gratified that the committee has seen fit to make a dedicated program for the Chesapeake because it’s the only one—it’s the only regional program in the bill.”
The House Agriculture Committee began working on its version of the Farm Bill in late May; the Senate was expected to begin writing its version in June.