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New York and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

New York contains the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Susquehanna River in New York, the nation’s 16th largest river, provides half of the freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Susquehanna headwaters is one of the most flood-prone regions in the nation. Its low rolling hills and steep-walled side valleys feed the main river flows. The steep gradient tributaries combined with the rocky glacial till that underlies the region result in stream erosion, gravel deposition, and flooding that have important local and regional water quality consequences. The landscape is characterized by a mix of forest, agriculture, rural residences and two metropolitan areas, Elmira and Binghamton.


The major pollutants of concern in the Susquehanna headwaters are sediment and nutrients. Sources include flooding and stream bank erosion, road ditch and road bank erosion, and agricultural runoff. The watershed issues of greatest importance are flooding and drought, stream bank erosion, gravel deposition and sediment and nutrient loading from stream banks, roadways, and agriculture.

Recently there has been an increasing amount of negative information on agriculture's role in polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is a large ecosystem that encompasses six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia. In New York, approximately 3.6 million acres of the state drain into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Only a portion of that land is in agricultural production. A large percentage of land, 1.7 million acres, is forestland.

Different land uses have led to the conditions that threaten the present health of the Chesapeake Bay. It is not plausible to blame the Bay's health on one segment of society's actions. In many watersheds agriculture is preferred over suburban or urban land uses, as it provides less of an impact on water quality.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed continues to experience growth and development, which often converts forest and natural areas into paved areas to accommodate homes, stores, and roads. These paved areas and structures, known as impervious areas, take away the watershed's ability to filter pollutants that result from human activity and also increase the rate at which rain runoff reaches streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

The New York staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) thanks those in New York's agricultural community who are voluntarily making a positive impact on working lands.

We appreciate the farmers throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed whom are taking steps toward conserving, enhancing, and sustaining natural resources. Ultimately, these creditable actions will help in the efforts to create a healthy Chesapeake Bay.

New York's agriculture community is modifying farming practices to improve the environment, not only in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, but throughout the entire state.

In the early 1990s, the people in the New York City Watershed made the commitment to support agriculture as a preferred land use over development because of the benefits to the water resources. Nine million people put their trust in agriculture to maintain their clean, unfiltered drinking water.

NRCS services are being used by New York farmers to write conservation and nutrient management plans, create wildlife habitat, install erosion control practices, improve water quality, and to preserve farmland from urbanization.

One way a farmer's stewardship is shown is through a continued interest and support of the many voluntary USDA Farm Bill programs and services that NRCS administers. These services and programs are designed to help people help the land by improving the quality of soil, air, and water resources.

Though there is even more to be done, farmers are emerging as one of the leaders in environmental stewardship. The NRCS is also committed to this role. We are a service orientated agency that assists farmers, communities, private organizations, and other state and federal agencies to help protect natural resources.

We have many services to offer farmers and encourage people to contact their local USDA NRCS office as they work toward a better environment. Cooperative conservation among the many good stewards in New York's agricultural community is promoting healthy watershed throughout the state.

New York farmers, NRCS thanks you! Together, we are helping people help the land...and the Bay.

Acres of New York land (per County) in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
County Acres in Watershed
Allegany 54,393
Broome 405,609
Cayuga 459
Chemung 238,592
Chenango 583,030
Cortland 299,342
Delaware 183,121
Herkimer 57,224
Livingston 8,493
Madison 196,628
Montgomery 8
Oneida 28,144
Onondaga 32,495
Ontario 735
Otsego 631,333
Schoharie 27,114
Schuyler 51,660
Steuben 383,595
Tioga 330,634
Tompkins 59,553
Yates 5,842
Total watershed acres 3,578,005
Total acres in New York 31,118,624

Organic Farming Practices Benefit the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

As organic farming becomes more popular and organic products draw an increasing price tag in local supermarkets, those that paved the way for this transition are credited for their ingenuity, passion, and dedication.

For Kathie Arnold, organic farming has always been a labor of love. From her early days as a dairy farmer, she has always had a special interest in organic dairy production and knew that someday she would transition her operation towards a more sustainable, cleaner, and healthier way of doing business. That opportunity came over ten years ago and she immediately seized the chance to earn the distinguished title of an all organic dairy. She ceased using pesticides, only used organic feed, and implemented numerous other sustainable farming practices that would ensure long term success.

Arnold runs the Twin Oaks Dairy in Cortland, New York with her husband and brother-in-law. They have been farming together for 27 years and currently operate a 140 cow dairy farm on 700 acres of land. They grow mainly hay and corn, and pasture with some small grains on rolling, highly erodible hill land in the Tioughnioga River Watershed, which is part of the greater Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The farm has been in the family since the 1930s when her husband’s parents started farming.

She first became interested in organic farming while reading organic gardening magazines growing up. She was concerned about the chemicals they were applying on their land and how they would adversely impact their water supply and the animals in their operation. She built two manure storage units and starting composting manure to increase capacity, and ensure safe environmental conditions. She instituted a roof water management system to keep clean water clean and built laneways for better surface area for cows to keep them out of the mud.

“Organic dairy farming is better for my cows, better for people, and better for the environment,” said Arnold. “My operation reduces energy use, increases nutrients in the milk, and is overall beneficial for cow health.”

Arnold has participated in numerous state and federal conservation programs to ensure success on her farm. She continues to look for and implement new ways to better manage her land and to be a good steward of natural resources. She also has been an asset for local educational institutions and government agencies for her experience, creativity, and passion for what she does.

A Success Story Along the Tioughnioga River

A branch of the Tioughnioga River flows right behind Ken and Susan Poole’s dairy farm, named Sunset Young Farm, in Cortland County, New York. The Tioughnioga joins the Susquehanna River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The Poole’s signed up for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in 2000.  They were concerned that their barnyard was overly sloppy and that it was having an adverse affect on their herd’s health. Also, barnyard runoff was flowing into the Tioughnioga River.

“If the animals were in that concentrated area with no concrete, where you couldn’t clean it all the time, when rain comes and flushes through these yards, it’s naturally going to go right into that river and we could not stop it,” Susan Poole said. “We were scrapping gravel out a lot, and it costs money to replace it."

Through EQIP, the Poole’s were able to install a large concrete pad in the barnyard’s high-traffic area. The pad makes it easy to scrape the manure daily and deposit it in a manure storage pit. The pad also makes it less likely that runoff from the barnyard will make it into the Tioughnioga, or the Chesapeake Bay.

Explore NRCS' programs in New York

Use the USDA's Service Center Locator to identify your local NRCS contact.Service Center Locator

Additional Resources

Chesapeake Bay Program
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a unique regional partnership that has led and directed the restoration of the bay since 1983.

Chesapeake Bay Conservation
NRCS Web site for the Chesapeake Bay

Contact Information

Robert McAfee, NRCS Chesapeake Bay Watershed Management Specialist (acting)
Telephone: 443-482-2953
E-mail: Robert McAfee