The Aug. 15 article, “New Chesapeake Bay Protections Will Impact Clarke Farming Practices,” creates a misleading straw man, saying “farmers often are cited as the source of the Chesapeake Bay’s excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment,” then allows local leaders to vent as if it were true. While farm runoff does contribute significant amounts of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment plaguing local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay (Baywide, 38 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorus, and 60 percent of the sediment), farmers are certainly not being singled out or made to bear an unreasonable burden in the federal-state Chesapeake Bay restoration initiative.
Localities in urban areas, for example, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and better capture and treat stormwater runoff. Residents in these localities are being asked to install rain barrels, plant rain gardens, and reduce lawn fertilizer. Private businesses, manufacturers, and power plants are having to modernize to reduce pollution or risk losing state and federal permits to operate. Military bases and federal and state facilities across the six-state Bay watershed have been assigned pollution reduction targets that they must achieve.
Farmers are simply being asked to do their fair share. Moreover, myriad state and federal cost-share programs are available to help farmers pay for the conservation practices that will achieve the necessary pollution reductions.
Local officials already have many of the tools and authorities needed to achieve pollution reductions. In fact, many projects are already in local government budgets or planned to address local flooding, wastewater treatment, and stormwater runoff. Often these local water quality initiatives also contribute to the pollution reductions targeted in the Bay cleanup.
Yes, local cleanup strategies are due to the state by Oct. 1, but Virginia and the federal Environmental Protection Agency fully expect local plans to be phased in over the next 14 years and to be adjusted as needed before full implementation by 2025. Local help in developing cleanup plans is available from local planning district commissions, in the case of Clarke County, the Northern Shenandoah Planning District Commission and from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Information about a series of regional workshops now being held across Virginia is posted at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/
Finally, total cleanup costs may seem substantial, mainly because as a society we have become accustomed to dumping our pollution into local creeks, streams, and rivers for free. The price of appropriate and necessary cleanup now seems jarring. However, others downstream have for decades been paying the price of our dirty water in lost jobs, lost revenue, and higher water treatment costs. The costs now coming due are unlikely to put anyone out of business – certainly not responsible farmers – and are manageable when spread over the 14 years of the cleanup effort and among all of those involved.
Poll after poll consistently finds an overwhelming majority of Virginians want clean water and a healthy environment – and are willing to pay more to have it. Rather than grouse about problems, let’s work together to find solutions that ensure all Virginians have clean water.
Outreach and Advocacy Manager
Chesapeake Bay Foundation