Bay cleanup leaders in September took action to help the Bay by addressing water quality issues stemming from three land uses: lawns, farms and forests.

In a series of actions, the Executive Council:

  • Signed an agreement to reduce phosphorus in lawn care products;
  • Pledged to set measurable forest protection goals at next year’s meeting;
  • Agreed to step up state spending for farm conservation programs, while also lobbying Congress for additional support; and
  • Urged state secretaries and commissioners of agriculture to provide regular input on Bay issues.

The annual meeting of the Executive Council, which includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the EPA; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures, took place on Maryland’s Kent Island with the Bay, which the group has promised to clean up by 2010, as a backdrop.

But figures from the Bay Program indicate that huge reductions of nutrients and sediment, which foul the Chesapeake’s water, are needed in the next four years to meet that goal. “There is a sense of immediacy here, we need to get going,” said Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, chairman of the Executive Council.

Some acceleration is expected in the next several years as the states and the EPA in 2006 began setting discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants throughout the watershed that will result in sharp nutrient reductions from those facilities. But most of the sediment and nutrients reaching the Bay are not discharged from a pipe—they originate as runoff from the land.

Although a relatively small amount of the total pollution reaching the Bay comes from lawns, addressing that nutrient source has been difficult because it involves changing the habits of legions of do-it-yourself homeowners, who often misuse fertilizers.

An agreement negotiated by Bay Program representatives and The Scotts Company, representing the lawn care product industry, calls for cutting the amount of phosphorus in commercial lawn care products in half by 2009.

Rich Martinez, chief environmental officer for Scotts, who represented the industry in the negotiations, said his company—which produces about half of the lawn care products sold in the nation—would begin phasing in the reductions next year, and he expected other manufacturers to follow suit. “If we move, we move a lot of the industry,” he said.

One other company, Pennsylvania-based Lebanon Seabord Corp., has also agreed to the reductions.

The agreement also calls for addressing nitrogen runoff from fertilizer by next year’s meeting, either by reducing the nutrient content in products, or in changing application methods. In addition, it commits the industry to work with land grant universities to develop new outreach mechanisms to promote better application practices among the public.

Forests constitute the largest single land use in the watershed, and a new report, “State of the Chesapeake Forests,” reaffirms that acre-for-acre, forests release fewer nutrients than any other land use—but they are losing ground to development. In response, the Executive Council approved a directive pledging to set measurable forest conservation goals by its meeting next year.

“When you preserve open space, you don’t just preserve places of beauty that we all love, but you help water quality, you help air quality, you help the climate,” said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was attending his first Executive Council meeting.

Agriculture remains the largest single source of nutrients and sediment to the Chesapeake, and council members pledged to step up state spending to help farmers while lobbying for more federal support.

In addition, they plan to push for changes in the next Farm Bill—which sets federal agriculture policy for five years—that would not only boost federal spending for conservation efforts, but also boost technical assistance so more people could work with farmers to implement practices that reduce runoff. Congress is expected to write the next Farm Bill in 2007.

“This Farm Bill reauthorization, for many reasons, is a focal point with respect to the foundation that we need to build over the next five years in this watershed,” Ehrlich said.

Even with ramped-up state funding, the region would need considerably more from Congress to implement more conservation practices such as streamside buffers on farms. Right now, the region only gets about a quarter of the estimated $262 million a year it needs from the federal government to implement state tributary strategies aimed at reducing agricultural nutrient and sediment pollution.

Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, cautioned that “as always, the devil is in the details. We look to these leaders to deliver by providing increased funding in their budgets. We will also hold them to their promise to lobby for increased funding from the federal Farm Bill.”

Dealings between the Bay cleanup effort—where success will largely hinge on the ability to reduce pollution from the region’s farms—and the agricultural community, which supports one of the region’s largest industries, have often been tense in the past. To improve communication, the council recognized a newly formed group, consisting of the top agricultural official from each state in the Bay watershed, as an official advisory group “to advance the role and voice of agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay partnership.”

David Bancroft, president of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which helped to bring the state secretaries and commissioners together for an organizational meeting in September, said the officials were “enthusiastic” about their new role.

“This is a step forward in bringing the agricultural community more into the restoration tent,” Bancroft said. “This will promote agriculture and agriculture practices that benefit the Bay.”

Highlights of Actions Affecting Resource Lands

The council agreed it would adopt a goal at next year’s meeting to conserve forest land in the watershed. As part of the commitment, the council pledged to:

Forests

  • Identify priority areas for conservation, including stream, shoreline, flood plain and wetland forests; forests in headwaters and on steep slopes; forests protecting drinking water supplies; large forest blocks; and sustainably managed “working forests.”
  • Recommend planning, regulations, easements, tax incentives, funding programs and other strategies that will be used to help protect forests and improve stewardship.
  • Expand efforts to link stormwater management and land use regulations with forest conservation and riparian buffer restoration.
  • Develop within each jurisdiction a goal, with milestones, for protecting forested areas of critical importance.
  • Work with landowners, industry groups, land trusts and others to create new partnerships and innovative strategies to help maintain forests of critical importance to water quality as well as improve stewardship.

Agriculture

Council members signed two documents.

“Assisting Farmers: Accelerating Agricultural Implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategies”

This document seeks to balance concerns about nutrient and sediment pollution from farms with maintaining a viable agricultural industry—a major issue within the region. To help address the problem, council members (except the EPA, which cannot promise funds or lobby) pledged to:

  • Increase state funding for conservation programs to help leverage more federal spending for conservation programs.
  • Provide adequate levels of technical assistance to meet tributary strategy goals and report annually on efforts to increase participation in conservation programs.

In addition, the states pledged to lobby Congress to:

  • Increase federal spending for conservation programs to levels sufficient to meet tributary strategy goals.
  • Reform federal conservation ranking systems to reward farmers who implement practices with the greatest environmental benefits.
  • Create “regional technical committees” for the rapid dissemination of innovative technologies, especially those related to manure and poultry litter.
  • Increase federal spending on technical assistance programs to meet regional needs and sustain those levels into the future.

“Resolution to Enhance the Role and voice of Agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay Partnership”

This document urges state secretaries and commissioners of agriculture within the Bay watershed to meet on a periodic basis to discuss:

  • agricultural and farm viability issues in relation to the Bay’s restoration;
  • funding issues related to conservation practices within the region;
  • innovative technologies and markets that may enhance restoration; and
  • other matters that may advance the agricultural role and voice in the Bay partnership.

It also called on the secretaries to report to the Executive Council every year.