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Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative

USDA Announces Initiative, Invests $22.5 Million in Water Quality Improvements in Chesapeake Bay 

Landowner and NRCS employee standing on a cliff, examining an aerial photo; the Bay shore is to the left.USDA will invest an additional $22.5 million in conservation assistance in fiscal year 2022 to help farmers boost water quality improvements and conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. USDA is also announcing a new task force – jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – to better quantify the voluntary conservation efforts of farmers in the Bay watershed. Read more.

The largest estuary on the continent, the 64,000 square-miles Chesapeake Bay watershed 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 the District of Columbia and portions of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia – 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?

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plays a key role in the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. NRCS uses its Conservation Technical Assistance and current Farm Bill conservation programs to help agricultural producers and  landowners voluntarily improve their farms and private forests with innovative solutions that fit their needs and simultaneously benefit the bay watershed. Through its current Farm Bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program(RCPP), NRCS helps farmers and forest landowners implement various conservation practices that improve water quality, boost soil health, and enhance wildlife habitat. Agricultural producers are increasing soil organic matter, implementing improved grazing systems, planting stream buffers, restoring wetlands, properly managing manure, and implementing other conservation practices.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed:

  • Over the past decade, NRCS has invested more than $1.1 billion in assistance;
  • Between 2018 and 2020, NRCS helped farmers implement conservation on 1.26 million acres in the Bay watershed. That’s the size of Grand Canyon National Park. 
  • Over a decade (from 2006 to 2016), farmers in the Bay watershed have made significant increases in the adoption of structural practices, conservation tillage, and cover crops that reduced sediment loss, surface losses of nitrogen and phosphorus from cropped fields and increased per acre carbon stored in cropland soils by 69%.  

Across the Bay from 2006 to 2016:

  • Application of edge-of-field practices nearly tripled, from 9.6% to 28.3% of cropland acres using a riparian buffer, field border, filter strip, or critical area planting.
  • Cover crop use increased nearly 11-fold, from 3% to 33% of acres using cover crops in their crop rotation.
  • No till increased by 52% and conventional tillage decreased by 61%. Conservation tillage of all types were being implemented on 82% of acres in the Bay watershed.

Through RCPP, NRCS and partners can develop and carry out local and regional conservation projects that address key resource concerns in the impacted area. From 2014 through 2018, NRCS has committed more than $68 million in current Farm Bill program funds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed through RCPP. Participating partners in RCPP projects matched those funds with approximately $119 million.

How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit Producers?

Farmers and forest landowners participating in NRCS conservation programs help improve water quality and natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by carrying out well-planned systems of conservation practices that maintain and improve the productivity of their land. These conservation systems reduce runoff from agricultural land and forest land, increase water availability in the soil for crops, increase forage production on grazing operations, and improve the quality and quantity of timber and forest products. The systems also can be designed to offer additional benefits such as hunting, fishing, and hunting.

How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit the Public?

A well-managed farm produces food and fiber, limits its nutrient and sediment runoff, helps sustain rural community economies, and contributes to the food security of our nation. Through voluntary conservation on private agricultural and forest lands, farmers, with help from NRCS and partners, reduce pollution to streams, creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay to improve water quality and wildlife today, and for future generations.

Who are NRCS's Partners?

NRCS works with a strong network 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.

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