The largest estuary on the continent, the Chesapeake Bay watershed covers 64,000 square miles and includes more than 150 rivers and streams. More than 300 species of fish, shellfish and crab and a wide array of other wildlife call the bay home.
While the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved since the 1970s, excess nutrients and sediment continue to adversely affect water quality in the bay and its tributaries. Agricultural lands compose nearly 30 percent of the watershed, and the region – which includes Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – has more than 83,000 farms responsible for more than $10 billion of agricultural production each year. A thriving and sustainable agricultural sector is critical to restoring the Chesapeake.
What Conservation Efforts Are Underway in the Watershed?
Farm Bill conservation programs are making it possible for NRCS to help producers address farm water concerns with innovative solutions that fit the needs of the producers and the bay watershed. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), NRCS helps farmers, ranchers and forest landowners implement a variety of conservation practices that improve water quality, boost soil health and enhance wildlife habitat. Producers are planting stream buffers, restoring wetlands, properly managing manure and implementing other conservation practices.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), funded through the 2008 Farm Bill, was the largest single USDA investment in restoring the bay. Between 2009 and 2013, NRCS committed an unprecedented $190 million for expanded implementation of conservation practices on crop, pasture and private forestland in the bay.
Under CBWI, more than 37,000 conservation practices were installed on hundreds of thousands of acres in the watershed, including:
Nearly 500,000 acres of nutrient management to improve the rate, timing and method of nutrient application;
More than 228,000 acres of cover crops to absorb excessive nitrogen and phosphorous; and
More than 1,000 buffers planted along stream banks that prevent sediment and pollutants from entering waterways.
Additionally, the 2014 Farm Bill offers NRCS and its staff new tools to target Bay conservation efforts through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated the Chesapeake Bay watershed as one of eight critical conservation areas, which receive 35 percent of the program’s funding.
How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit Producers?
Investments in private lands conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed benefit producers by supporting conservation activities that improve soil and water quality. These improvements support long-term productivity and reduce the need for additional regulation. Through working with NRCS, producers receive technical and financial assistance to address soil erosion, sedimentation and excess nutrients in streams and waterways as well as other related natural resource concerns such as air quality, wetlands, wildlife habitat and forestry.
How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit the Public?
A well-managed farm limits its nutrient and sediment runoff, produces food and fiber, helps sustain rural community economies and contributes to the food security of our nation. Through voluntary conservation on private lands, NRCS and its partners reduce pollution to streams, creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay to improve water quality and wildlife today, and for generations to follow.
NRCS is building a foundation of partners from non-profit and private organizations, local, state, and federal governments and individuals across the nation. Whether these partnerships augment funding sources, increase return on investment, or provide boots-on-the-ground support, NRCS and its partners are committed to helping people help the land. The success of NRCS and Chesapeake Bay producers in reducing nutrient and sediment losses would not be possible without the many partners that leverage the Federal investment in Bay conservation.