WASHINGTON, Aug. 30- The Chesapeake Bay Watershed, an area under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce water pollution, will become a site of conservation experimentation through a collection of grants announced by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on Aug. 22.
The 2011 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) provide funding for conservation projects in 40 states. Eight of the approved grants support project development in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with a total of $3.8 million in grant money.
The grants are allocated throughout the states that include the Chesapeake Bay, all for various pilot projects that combine conservation with more efficient farming strategies.   The largest award is a $1 million grant to AviHome, LLC in Georgia for the construction of a vented (plenum) flooring system. The system will reduce ammonia (NH3) emissions, energy use, and dust and particulate matter while improving feed conversion in commercial poultry houses.
In Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, more than $800,000 is granted to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help farmers convert manure to energy with goals to generate income and improve water quality in phosphorous hot spots in Chesapeake Bay. 
Other grants include one to Pennsylvania State University for implementing and marketing environmental stewardship on small farms and equine operations and one to the Maryland Department of Agriculture for drainage system management practices, among others. 
“One of the reasons we carved out some dollars for the Chesapeake Bay CIGs project is because USDA recognized that improving the health of waters in the basin is a priority for the President and Secretary of Agriculture,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary of NRCS, Ann Mills. “We’re encouraging folks with innovative ideas to speak to improving water quality.”

Mills said USDA has been working with other federal agencies under President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay executive order to assist farmers in using these technologies for reducing nitrogen and sediment flows into the bay. She said these projects will help farmers in the bay area to reach the EPA’s water quality edicts, or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established TMDL regulations by setting limitations on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients and sediment going into the Chesapeake Bay. 

According to information from the EPA, more than 40,000 TMDLs have been completed across the United States, but the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is the largest and most complex. It is designed to achieve significant reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution throughout a 64,000-square-mile watershed that includes the District of Columbia and large sections of six states.

“We think that 21st century conservation is going to be largely driven by farmers and ranchers to be tremendous stewards of the land,” Mills said. “Regardless of what other federal agencies are doing, we think conservation is here to stay and we think it’s an important part of the nation’s food security and water security. As we all know, farmers and ranchers care deeply about their resources and they’re always going to want to do what’s right by the land.”

Mills described these grant awards as pilot projects, which give producers the opportunity to work with experts by addressing what methods best reach their conservation needs. She hopes this will provide opportunities to find what works and to eventually use the most successful conservation methods on a wider scale.

For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed CIG’s go here.

For more details on Chesapeake Bay area TMDL’s set my EPA, go here.


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