This is the third in a series of blogs on how community conservation groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read the second and first parts.
Muddy Creek, Rockingham County, VA
With its fertile Shenandoah Valley soils, Rockingham is Virginia's most valuable agricultural county, especially for livestock: beef, dairy, and poultry. Unfortunately, the concentration of livestock on the county's rolling land has led to significant nonpoint source nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the streams and creeks that feed the Shenandoah River system. A partnership of farmers, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations (including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation), and private contractors has quietly produced a solid success story for several tributaries of the North River over the past 15 years. There are several elements in this success that echo the Mill Creek project.
In the 1990s, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) placed Rockingham's Muddy Creek and Dry River on the Commonwealth's 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for violating the nitrate public drinking water standard of 10 milligrams per liter, since the Town of Bridgewater draws from the North River below Dry River's confluence with it, and for violating the E.coli bacteria water quality standard. In addition, Muddy Creek has a benthic (streambed aquatic life) impairment because of sediment and phosphorous pollution.
Thus DEQ began developing a pollution reduction plan for these two waterways. Implementation began in 2001 with installation of agricultural and residential Best Management Practices (BMPs) on farms through a partnership between willing landowners, DEQ, the VA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), VA Cooperative Extension, the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, the Rockingham County Farm Bureau, the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and several food-processing companies. More recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Virginia Office and Watershed Stewardship, Inc. have joined the partnership.
At the beginning of the project, a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment allowed DEQ and DCR to conduct public outreach in planning the nuts and bolts of implementation. This outreach played a critical role in building support for the project, just as outreach did 300 miles to the north on Mill Creek. A DEQ/DCR report noted that, "Effective outreach is as much a matter of building relationships and trust as it is of providing pertinent information...[It] means adapting to the schedules, customs, and rhythms of the community. It involves flexibility and the willingness to operate within a give-and-take relationship."
--John Page Williams
Stay tuned for part four tomorrow which discusses how fencing, grazing systems, and other innovative methods helped improve the Muddy Creek watershed.