The federal government is steering $6 million in grants to help states curb agricultural runoff in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The lion’s share is going to Pennsylvania, which has been struggling to meet its share of the Bay cleanup goals.

Cows wading in stream 2

Reducing nutrient pollution from agriculture has been a challenge throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Pennsylvania has the most farms in the Bay watershed and fallen far short on its pollution reduction goals. 

The funding, announced May 18 by Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is part of the $12 million allotted to Bay restoration in the budget Congress approved for this year.

Of that, $6 million went to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be distributed through its grant programs that fund pollution control initiatives in the watershed. The remaining $6 million is to be used to fund state efforts to reduce pollution in the “most effective basins.”

As a result, the agency decided to direct the money toward reducing agricultural runoff, which is typically less costly to control than sources from developed land, and is where states need to make the greatest headway to meet clean water goals for the Bay and its tributaries.

“Our shared goal with the agricultural community is to have clean water and healthy farms,” Wheeler said.

The grant allocation was made based on computer modeling that identified places where reductions of nitrogen runoff from farmland would have the greatest impact on reducing the oxygen-starved “dead zone” that occurs during summers in the Chesapeake Bay. That analysis showed that reductions in parts of Pennsylvania generally have the greatest impact.

As a result, Pennsylvania will get $3.7 million; Virginia $1.1 million; Maryland $695,940; Delaware $364,540; New York $79,536; and West Virginia $54,681. None goes to the District of Columbia, as its cleanup plan includes no agricultural lands.

Pennsylvania is far behind in achieving the nutrient reductions needed to meet its Bay cleanup goals. Other states and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have warned the EPA they plan to sue the agency for failing to press the state to accomplish more.

While the additional money will help, the grant funds going to Pennsylvania account for only about 1%% of the state’s annual funding gap of $324 million for pollution reduction activities.

The EPA annually provides millions of dollars to help Bay states reduce water pollution, but this was the first time a portion of that funding was allocated based on cost-effectiveness. The action was praised by the environment secretaries of Maryland and Virginia. Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles called it “a small but encouraging step.”

Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Matt Strickler said he was “generally supportive” of the methodology used to allocate funds.

Karl Blankenship is the founding editor of the Bay Journal and Bay Journal Media. You can reach him at kblankenship@bayjournal.com.

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