The Chesapeake Bay is a “national treasure” and was the nation’s first estuary to be targeted by Congress for restoration and protection.
In 2009, President Obama called upon federal agencies to exercise greater leadership in helping to protect and restore the Bay and its tributaries [see Executive Order 13508, Section 202(b)]. As part of this effort, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has chosen three showcase watersheds that, if successfully restored, may become models for the six states working to restore the Chesapeake Bay: Smith Creek in Virginia, Upper Chester River in Maryland, and the Conewago River in Pennsylvania.
The showcase initiative will harness the collective energies of federal, state, and local partners to help landowners and communities use the land in sustainable ways that do not harm water quality.
Why Smith Creek?
Smith Creek offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate a variety of conservation practices and approaches. In recent years, numerous restoration and conservation activities have been undertaken by both government agencies and the private sector to address water quality in the watershed. Building upon and coordinating these efforts will help get even more “boots on the ground,” serve as a test bed for innovation and research, and create a voluntary community wide plan to improve water quality throughout the watershed.
It will also leverage public and private resources to get more conservation applied. The 2008 Farm Bill has targeted funding for watershed conservation and USDA can provide technical and financial support through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). Other federal and state programs include Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants, water quality improvement funds, state cost-share programs, tax credits, and revolving loans.
A TMDL implementation plan addressing goals to reduce bacteria and sediments was developed in 2009 with input from watershed residents and local governments. This plan supports the need for agricultural land use changes and practices to benefit water quality. It also identifies priority conservation practices that can be quickly implemented to reduce bacteria and sediment in Smith Creek and offers a high potential for delisting success. The showcase pilot project will support meeting the state’s TMDL two year milestones by providing special technical and financial consideration for these practices when ranking program applications.
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality data and citizen monitoring through “friends of rivers” groups provide baseline and ongoing data which will be used to evaluate progress in reaching water quality goals and standards. The U.S. Geological Survey is willing to collect monitoring data for additional parameters which will give a more complete picture of watershed health.
Who are the Partners?
As executive sponsors, USDA agencies will advocate for the watershed, seek funding, and provide leadership. These agencies will work together to improve communications, pool skills and talents, and offer more options to solve water quality problems. They include: NRCS, the Forest Service, the Farm Service Agency, and Rural Development.
The Smith Creek Watershed Partnership Steering Committee represents a broad array of agencies, organizations, and community interests. They meet quarterly to develop strategies and implement plans to effectively manage resources, provide information and outreach, and evaluate progress towards meeting water goals. The group will offer business insights and advice on agricultural issues, applicable technology, available sources of assistance, and tracking and monitoring success.
A sounding board (comprised of farmers and other stakeholders) will provide input to the Smith Creek Watershed Partners committee to develop project activities and future plans. Daily operations will fall to a core team of experienced conservationists and technical experts who will serve as gatekeepers for Smith Creek initiatives. These individuals are first-line decision makers who will be responsible for determining project targets and objectives. They will also proactively report problems with project implementation to the Steering Committee. Work groups comprised of select members of the Steering Committee and Sounding Board will offer technical support on specific resource issues.
How Does this Project Help the Community?
This showcase will help make Smith Creek a place where everyone can continue to live and work while ensuring that agriculture remains active in the region. Ongoing conservation initiatives in Smith Creek will reward farmers, landowners and communities for doing the right thing for the environment. Farmers are key stakeholders and major players in this initiative. They will be encouraged to implement standard conservation practices such as planting cover crops and buffers, fencing cattle out of streams, and implementing no-till farming, They’ll also be able to sign up for pilot programs and innovative farming techniques. Citizens will also have an opportunity to contribute through a variety of residential practices such as planting rain gardens, installing bioretention filters, and using rain barrels.