Virginia officials say runoff control efforts, mainly by farmers, will help the state exceed part of its nutrient reduction goal for the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers by its deadline at the end of the year.
Its nutrient reduction strategy called for 3.47 million pounds of nitrogen reductions and 560,000 pounds of phosphorus reductions from “nonpoint” sources, such as the runoff from farmlands and city streets.
Based on actions taken so far, the state estimates it has slightly surpassed that goal. Efforts so far should keep 3.6 million pounds of nitrogen and 620,000 pounds of phosphorus out of the rivers annually.
“This shows a voluntary, cooperative effort can work,” said David Brickley, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. “The Gilmore administration provided the tools necessary to get the job done.”
Since 1998, about $15 million in state funds and another $5 million in federal money have supported runoff control programs in the Potomac basin, which includes the Shenandoah River. In addition, state officials estimate landowners spent about $6 million of their own money on the efforts.
Still, the state will fall short of the full cleanup goal for rivers. That’s because upgrades at “point sources” such as wastewater treatment plants — which were expected to make similar amounts of nutrient reductions — are not expected to be completed until 2002.
Also, because many agricultural nutrients reach rivers through slow-moving groundwater, it may take years for the full effect of efforts taken so far to be felt in the Bay.
Nonetheless, officials were cheered at the level of nutrient control actions taken, mainly by private land owners, in the four years since the strategy was adopted. “Virginia’s citizens in these two watersheds deserve credit for this tremendous achievement,” Brickley said.
Among efforts taken, according to the state: 25,789 acres of agricultural land have been retired; 228 miles of stream fencing have been installed; about 280,000 acres are under nutrient management plans; 20 miles of streambanks have been stabilized; 725 poultry waste control systems are in place; and 422 acres of grass filter strips have been planted.
Actions taken so far are likely to be only the beginning of nutrient control efforts. The Bay Program by the end of next year is supposed to set new nutrient reduction goals aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake by the end of the decade.
The goals could require reductions equal to, or surpassing, nutrient reductions made in the past decade.
“As new nutrient goals are established, we call on these same stakeholders to reaffirm their commitment to local water quality, which also improves that of the Bay,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley Jr. “Virginia is fully committed to helping achieve the water quality necessary to support aquatic living resources in the Bay and its tributaries.”
In the meantime, all of the Bay states still have to finish attaining the old nutrient reduction goals, which were set in 1987 and were supposed to be reached by the end of this year.
The Bay Program’s computer models indicate that the Bay states will miss their Baywide goals for nitrogen and phosphorus, and will fall short of the nitrogen goal in all major basins. The Baywide nitrogen goal isn’t expected to be met until a number of wastewater treatment plant upgrades are completed, which isn’t expected until 2003. By that time, the new nutrient reduction goals will be in place.