Watershed States, EPA Call for More Technical Assistance to Region's Farmers

The Bay’s six watershed states and Washington, D.C., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Chesapeake Bay Commission all signed a new directive to ask for more technical assistance to farmers in the watershed.

The governors of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware, acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, all met at Baltimore’s Fells Point waterfront Tuesday for the annual Chesapeake Executive Council meeting.

Restoration is the chief concern, and reducing the pollution that farms send into tributaries is one of the keys to restoring the Bay.

When the EPA recently released its assessment of the watershed states’ progress toward their pollutant reduction goals for 2025, it found the agriculture sector is lagging behind.

Pennsylvania, in particular, has been criticized for failing to reach this year’s midpoint assessment goals. Patrick McDonnell, the state’s Secretary of Environmental Protection, admitted Pennsylvania is “clearly behind” in meeting its targets, but promises the state is “doubling down” now. 

Jenna Mitchell, Pennsylvania State Director of Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, works closely with farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where there are 425,000 acres of farmland.

“The vast majority of farmers want to manage their land responsibly, but conservation can be costly,” she pointed out. “We need to work with them, not against them. When we ask them to improve, we need to offer them support.”

 Photo: Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Photo: Chesapeake Bay Foundation

“Our farmers are strong stewards of the land and their contributions to improving water quality have been immense,” said Senator Frank Wagner, Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “But to achieve clean water throughout the Bay watershed, we need to do even more.  The directive signed by the Executive Committee today helps ensure farmers will have the assistance they need to finish the job.”

Local farmers and environmentalists agree that agricultural land conservation can’t succeed without plenty of support. Trey Hill, who owns Harborview Farms in Rock Hall, called farming “part of an ecological system that needs to be managed year-round.”

The Chesapeake Executive Council was established 35 years ago, and is responsible for setting conservation and restoration goals for the Bay watershed.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who was just reelected as chair of the council, called Tuesday’s meeting “a positive step in the right direction,” saying he is pleased “that there’s an open dialogue with our upstream neighbors.”