Conservation District Commitments to Do Farm Inspections Can Help Get Pennsylvania Back on Track toward Its Clean Water Goals

(HARRISBURG, PA)—According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), efforts in Pennsylvania to reduce pollution from agriculture received a welcome boost when conservation districts in 28 counties agreed to inspect local farms as prescribed by the Commonwealth's clean water strategy.

"From Susquehanna to Potter and Bedford to Chester counties, Pennsylvania needs to pick up the pace when it comes to reducing polluted runoff from agriculture," said CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. "That 28 conservation districts will work to see that all farms meet state clean water laws is a positive step in getting the Commonwealth back on track toward reaching its Clean Water Blueprint goals."

Pennsylvania's Clean Water Blueprint requires that 60 percent of pollution reduction practices be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025. The Commonwealth has acknowledged that it will not meet the 2017 goal.    

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), about 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams are damaged by pollution. Agriculture is the leading source of stream impairment in the Commonwealth.

The DEP intends to utilize conservation district staff and its own staff to meet the goal of inspecting 10 percent of farms annually. There are 33,600 farms in the Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. DEP inspected less than 2 percent of farms in 2014.

The DEP estimates that only about 30 percent of farms in the Commonwealth are currently in compliance with Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws, some of which have been in place for decades.

Conservation districts conducting inspections in their counties will receive funding from DEP to support Bay technician staff and will inspect 50 farms annually, per full-time person. Farms will be inspected to ensure they have written plans for manure or nutrient management and erosion control.

Conservation districts are participating in the farm inspection program in Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana (covered in agreement with Cambria), Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, and Wyoming counties.

"Lancaster County Conservation District (LCCD) has the relationship with the farmer and the long history of being the proactive advocate for agriculture in the county," district manager Chris Thompson said. "If compliance checks were going to happen in the county, the LCCD Board of Directors wanted our staff, not state or federal officials, to be the ones who delivered the message to the farmer."

Thompson added that, "We know that conservation systems improve the quality of the environment and the value and efficiencies of a farming operation. But to maximize the improvement benefits, a farmer needs to have a comprehensive, whole farm plan and get it implemented."

"The Cumberland County Conservation District's goal is to assist the farming community to come into compliance with the Clean Streams Law while at the same time encouraging installation of agriculture best management practices which will help in improving local water quality," district manager Carl Goshorn said.

The nine counties that declined to participate will be inspected by DEP personnel. They are Bradford, Cameron, Dauphin, Franklin, Luzerne, Northumberland, Perry, Tioga, and York counties. 

In addition, Cameron, Somerset, and Wayne counties have a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and will be inspected by DEP personnel.

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