Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Funding

When the proposed budget was released the Washington Post reported that the White House had referred to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup as a “regional effort” that should not be funded by Washington. The Washington Post went on to report: “Last year, the Chesapeake Bay program funneled about $9.3 million to Virginia, $9 million to Maryland and $2.6 million to the District for state, local and nonprofit projects and staff. The remainder went to the other state and local governments, nonprofits and schools. The money pays for such basics as upgrades to deteriorating sewer facilities and fences to limit chemical runoff from farms — efforts that have resulted in clearer water and the return of sea grasses critical to the survival of fish.”

I am a little less alarmed by the White House budget than by the Virginia budget. In my other life, I am the Treasurer of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District and we are currently engaged in our annual budgeting process. The EPA funding is a very tiny portion of the Chesapeake bay cleanup in Virginia and the rest of the states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from waste water treatment plants, agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, septic systems, air pollution and other sources have impaired the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom.

The EPA mandated a contamination limit called the TMDL (total maximum daily load for nutrient contamination and sediment) to all the states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Washington DC. The pollution limits were then partitioned to the various states and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay computer modeling tools and monitoring data.

Virginia created a plan called the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) of how they intend to achieve their assigned pollution reduction goals. Under this cleanup plan Virginia has completed wastewater treatment plant improvements and expansions. In total Virginians will have spent about $2 billion from 1998-2017 to upgrade the waste water treatment plants in the watershed. Half the money came from the state and the other half came from the increased sewer rates for residents. That comes to $105 million per year on average funded by Virginia and Virginians.

The remaining areas for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment for the 2025 goals are in the agricultural, suburban and urban storm water management. These are harder targets to hit because the sources of pollution in these areas are the so called non-point source pollution (NPS), diffuse sources of pollution. Local stormwater management is essential to meeting the pollution reduction controls. These pollutants are carried to streams and rivers by runoff of rain and snowmelt. Reducing these sources pollution are a major part of the work of the state's Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The way to reduce these sources pollution on the environment is to control stormwater and implement what is called “best management practices” (BMPs). Virginia has made great progress towards the EPA goal in management of livestock. A huge program carried out by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts to use financial incentives to induce all agricultural animal operations to fence all pastures to exclude all livestock from rivers and streams and provide alternate sources of water for the animals away from rivers and streams.

In total, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts have provided technical assistance worth $178,000,000 and financial incentives (paying for all or part of the cost to install these agricultural mitigations) totaling $200,000,000 to minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides; to reduce runoff and slow rain water, and exclude animals from rivers and streams over the past decade. That is an average of almost $38 million dollars a year, but last year alone the Commonwealth of Virginia spent $60 million on technical assistance and financial incentives to farmers.

To achieve the TMDL goals, Virginia is going to have to expand BMP programs and induce homeowners and business owners to change how they take care of their lawns and take action one yard at a time to reduce stormwater runoff to meet tightened stormwater goals. The Soil and Water Conservation Districts together have estimated that it will take and additional $1,740,119,000 for the technical assistance and cost sharing needs to expand our existing programs and reach all farmers, and suburban homeowners. That is $217 million a year between now and 2025 a level we have never approached.

The problem is not the loss of $9.3 million in federal support rather it is that for FY2018, beginning July 1, 2017, the state budget cuts the technical assistance and financial incentives budget to roughly $16 million from last year’s funding of $60 million and an average of $38 million over the past decade. The budget also cuts the base funding for administration and operations.

Virginia is also using its Soil and Water Conservation Districts to introduce urban and suburban storm-water residential retrofits through its Virginia Conservation Assistance Programs and Urban Cost Share Programs. These programs provide technical assistance and financial incentives to homeowners, Churches and businesses to take small steps to improve storm water control one yard at a time. There is no funding of these programs in the state’s budget.

Much of the funding for the Soil and Water Conservation Districts is on a local level. In Prince William County over 60% of our operations funding comes from the county. Our total funding for operations and technical assistance is $376,000 we raise addition funds for educational programs and outreach through grants and donations. Our financial incentives budget come entirely from the state. Last year our Conservation District had about $275,000 in financial incentive funding. However, for that money you get a lot of return. For fiscal year 2016 our hardworking staff :
  • Put  3,357 acres of land put under conservation plan in the county
  • Used the cost share program to put 877 acres of land in the county in Best Management Practices
  • Excluded  2,085 farm animals from streams  
  • Preventing 34,905 pounds of manure per day from flowing into our streams 
  • This prevented  15,371 pounds of nitrogen and 1,252 pounds of phosphorus from flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
  •  The District also provided Technical Assistance to 146 citizens for problems with their land.
  • Through our Adopt A Stream Program the District facilitated the cleanup of 79 miles of streams.
  • Through the hard work of our 790 volunteers, 19,494 pounds of trash removed from our waterways before it could flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Youth in Conservation Programs reached 7,746 students with our classroom programs and 1,620 students with our Farm Field Days programs.
  • Our Arbor Day education programs reached  1,381students
  • We were able to provide Teacher assistance to 359 teachers and also provide Citizen Stream Education to 341 county residents though out streams programs. 
Prince William needs to increase the funding to the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District to keep the work of Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay moving forward.

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