There has been a history of partnership in the Potomac headwaters. The Potomac Headwaters Water Quality Project began in 1992. NRCS, other federal and state agencies, and landowners made great progress in protecting and improving water quality. Educational efforts and technical assistance in the areas of nutrient, poultry litter and animal waste, and grazing lands management led to increased adoption of water quality improvement practices. The availability of financial assistance and incentives through the USDA Water Quality Incentive Program helped producers accelerate their implementation of these practices. Private support organizations, grass root organizations, and Watershed Associations played an important role in bringing public attention and action to water quality improvement. Programs implemented by the agricultural community were voluntary—evidence of the cooperation of area farmers to reduce the flow of agricultural pollutants into West Virginia waterways, including the nutrients and sediment that flow into the Bay.
In the past fifteen years, two major programs dealt specifically with the agricultural nutrients issue throughout the Potomac Headwaters watersheds in West Virginia. In the early 1990’s, a nutrient management initiative designed to reduce the nutrient runoff from animal feeding operations began, involving local farmers, state and federal agencies, and poultry integrators. Because of this program, poultry growers are required to implement and maintain nutrient management plans for the manure and litter produced on their farms. All plans are written and/or reviewed by certified WV Nutrient Management planners.
The Potomac Headwaters Land Treatment Program was initiated to address water quality concerns triggered by rapid expansion of the poultry industry. This project focused on accelerated development of nutrient management plans and installation of agriculture waste storage structures, mortality composters, and livestock confinement areas. Financial assistance available in 1996 allowed most area producers to develop plans and contracts under The Flood Control Act of 1944, Public Law 78-534 (PL-534). Eighty-five percent of poultry growers in the five county area of the Potomac Valley Conservation District are currently participating.
NRCS contracted with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct a surveillance level water quality study in 1994 and 1995 to assess the condition of the Potomac Headwaters watershed’s rivers in West Virginia. The study did not indicate high nutrient concentrations at any site, but noted significant algal growth at many sites during the summer and suggested this might be related to nutrient loading to the streams. Nitrate concentrations correlated to feedlots and poultry houses. However, nitrogen concentrations were considerably lower than concentrations to the east of the study area in the Shenandoah River’s Great Valley region, another agricultural region with integrated poultry agriculture.
In 2002, West Virginia became a Headwaters Partner in the Chesapeake Bay Program. By signing the agreement, West Virginia demonstrated its intent to improve water quality by establishing and implementing strategies to meet goals and objectives to reduce nutrient and sediment loads.