Thursday, May 27, 2010

Protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with Best Management Practices

With the expansion of suburbia, the nature of the Prince William County has changed. There are fewer and fewer truly agricultural properties and an increasing number of suburban developments and hobby farms. We are, nonetheless, still in the “Hunt Country.” Horse farms here are typically small in size often just five to ten acre properties with only a portion of that dedicated to horses. My own neighborhood consists of 10 acre properties which allow 6 horses each under the HOA rules. According to the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, PWSWCD, horses will naturally graze 18 hours each day if allowed free access to pastures. Too many horses on too few acres can quickly denude green meadows and threaten the health of the horses and the environment and straining relationships among neighbors. Our neighborhood has a very small on-site horse population so our problems are limited.
In the most recent rainstorms exposed soil, horse manure, and whatever else was there wash across the neighborhood. I was digging sediment, leaves, plastic and all manner of odd things out of the drainage ditch at the end of the road this morning after watching the ditch flow brown to the river yesterday. I am still trying to figure out where some of the wash waste came from. There were plastic milk jugs dated 6 months ago, where have they been hiding? I walk the two miles of road next to the ditch regularly and collect trash and trust me much of the waste that appeared in the rain was not evident last weekend. Chestnut Lick is directly down hill from the drainage ditch and in turn runs right into Bull Run and finally onto the Bay. The wooded hillside generally protects Chestnut Lick from the drainage ditch muck and trash, but requires that I clean the trash out of the woods, I rather clean the muck out of the ditch, I’m much less likely to get Lyme disease.
Where the river and streams are not as well protected the run off containing soil sediment and excess nutrients from fertilizers and animal manure contribute to the high nitrate, potassium and sediment concentration in the Chesapeake Bay. To prevent these problem Horse farms can use basic principals called Best Management Practices (BMPs) so that they don't damage the environment. The PWSWCD created a model horse farm to demonstrate these principals include the installation of fencing to exclude the horses from a 25 foot buffer/filter area alongside the stream, waterlines and troughs to provide an alternate source of drinking water for the horses, pasture seeding and renovation to discourage weed growth, interior fencing to allow for rotational grazing, manure storage that allows for properly timed application or removal for off-farm use, and the installation of confinement paddocks for non-pasture turnout.
The ‘Big Reveal’ of the Chesapeake Bay-Friendly Horse Farm project in Gainesville, VA on is on Friday June 11 from 11am-1pm, and well worth the trip for anyone involved with horses. Check with the PWSCD website for other scheduled tours. The project was developed by the PWSWCD with a grant from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation for $125,000. An equal amount was contributed by PWSWCD and its' more than 20 partners in direct funding, staff and volunteer time, products, and services. The model farm was in poor condition at the start, so many of the ideas can be incorporated into less stressed properties cost effectively. Check out the PWSWCD web site for more information.
In addition, the PWSWCD has free metal signs that indicate a property’s commitment to protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed by becoming a SWCD "Cooperator." Just like a Hybrid in the driveway they could become the status symbol for the environmentally conscious horse-keeper. BMPs could also become required under the new Strategy for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Call the District if you've cooperated in the past, if you've been doing the right thing all along, or if you're interested in implementing BMPs at your property. Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District is in Nokesville, VA (703) 594-3621.

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