HARRISBURG – The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced a $3.4 million investment in an all-new agricultural outreach and assistance program, the Regional Agricultural Watershed Assessment Program, to improve water quality in six different watersheds throughout the state.
“This project will allow DEP staff to work directly with farmers and our partners in the county conservation districts to develop solutions tailored to their farm and their watershed.” DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. “Anytime we can work as partners with the agricultural community great things happen.”
About $600,000 from the Environmental Stewardship Fund, commonly referred to as the Growing Greener Program, has been budgeted for each watershed, for a total investment of $3.4 million to assist farmers in the planning and installation of Best Management Practices (BMPs). DEP is finalizing the selection of six small agriculturally impaired watersheds, one in each of DEP’s regions, to be included in the program.
The investment in the Regional Agricultural Watershed Assessment Program will enable DEP staff to develop a working relationship with farmers in the selected watershed. Together with the farmers, DEP will set up initial farm visits to note any potential areas for environmental improvement. Each farm in the program will receive a list of recommended BMPs based on the findings of DEP’s initial visit.
After the first visit, farmers will be encouraged to contact their local conservation district for assistance in planning and implementing the suggested BMPs. They will also receive funding to install Growing Greener Program approved BMPs. Regional DEP staff will follow up with the farmers to check on the status of their plans and BMP installation.
After project progress is underway, DEP will work with the farmer to plan a final visit to ensure that the farmer is well-equipped to implement the recommended BMPs.
Water quality sampling will be conducted in the each of the six watersheds to study the effectiveness of this approach.
The Regional Agricultural Watershed Assessment Program was created as a result of a successful pilot program in Soft Run, Mifflin County. In September 2012, DEP, with the support of the Mifflin County Conservation District, began an agricultural compliance project in the Soft Run Watershed. This watershed had water quality issues related to agricultural impairment.
The pilot program created an opportunity for conservation district staff to advise the 19 local farmers on BMPs best suited for pollution prevention in the Soft Run Watershed. This effort to improve water quality encouraged DEP to take this successful approach across the state.
Since 1985, agriculture in Pennsylvania has reduced nitrogen pollution by over 13 million pounds per year. Nineteen percent of all nitrogen reductions made in restoring the Chesapeake Bay have been made by Pennsylvania’s agriculture community. Farmers have also spent nearly $15 million for BMP installation and equipment, including no-till planters and drills.
DEP continues to work with agricultural producers to improve the 5,705 miles of impaired streams in the state and find creative, cost effective solutions to improve water quality for the continued environmental health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens.
For more information about agricultural compliance regulations, visit www.dep.state.pa.us, keyword: Agriculture.