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Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative

New Report: Chesapeake Bay Watershed Action Plan

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Aug. 6, 2018. A new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Action Plan outlines how NRCS will help farmers, forest landowners, and partners improve water quality, boost soil health, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Download the full action plan. (PDF, 5MB)
Read our August 6, 2018 news release for more information.


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:

  • Since 2009, NRCS has invested more than $1 billion in technical and financial assistance;
  • NRCS staff help agricultural producers and forest landowners plan conservation practices on more than 300,000 acres annually;
  • Since 2010, more than 2 million acres located in priority watersheds have at least one conservation practice implemented with NRCS’s financial and technical help.

RCPP is the newest addition to NRCS’s suite of tools available to help agricultural producers, forest landowners, and partners address natural resource challenges in the Chesapeake 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 have 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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