Key areas marked for Chesapeake Bay 2016-17 milestones

AFP Correspondent

PHILADELPHIA (July 12, 2016) — As part of its June 17 evaluations of the 2014-15 progress toward restoring the Chesapeake Bay, the Environmental Protection Agency identified key areas for the states to address in the 2016-17 milestone period.
Strengths and achievements toward meeting the goals were also recognized.
The EPA assessed these goals by sector, including agriculture.
The evaluations reviewed the progress of the mandated reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
The following focuses on the agriculture sector.
For the 2016-17 period, EPA listed several expectations regarding concentrated animal feeding operations:  all new non-registered concentrated animal feeding operations identified applications submitted for permit coverage; all previously registered CAFOs assessed to determine the need to apply under the new CAFO general permit; definition of the role in best management practices verification at CAFOs, and coordination of plans for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
EPA expects the MDA to receive the remaining phosphorus soils data required under the Phosphorus Management Tool Regulations by fall 2016.
Additional milestones to support significant increases in implementation for Animal Waste Management Systems are recommended.
EPA recognized the state’s commitment for the Manure Matching Service that supports the Maryland’s Phosphorus Initiative for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 as a strength.
Achievements for 2014-15 listed by EPA included the Phosphorus Management Tool and the modification of the CAFO general permit that aligns it with federal requirements.
This latter action addressed the challenges by Food and Water Watch and Assateague Coastal Trust.
EPA delineated numerous expectations in the 2016-17 milestone period in key areas.
Regarding increased implementation, EPA expects milestone revisions for increased levels of priority best management practices resulting from both programmatic improvements and higher implementation.
In order to target funding to the most effective practices and watersheds, the EPA expects  Pennsylvania to develop a list to pinpoint areas with the greatest nutrient load reduction potential.
A milestone to review the 2016 Growing Greener and Chesapeake Bay Special Projects funding to target priority watersheds, and any refinements for 2017 grant funding is expected.
Regarding phosphorus management, EPA expects programs to be in place, based on science, to support farmers in managing agricultural lands.
For example, a commitment to update the state’s phosphorus index with the latest science could be included.
Crediting practices recommendations by EPA include employing BMP tracking software by Conservation District by a specific date; and a milestone to provide the swine phytase data to more accurately and fully credit that practice.
EPA identified several 2016-17 milestone strengths.
A draft implementation accompanied the “Reboot Strategy,” and detailed tasks and assignments for action and resources.
The grant workplans were also modified to align better with the strategy.
Compliance inspections on the required manure management plans and the agriculture erosion and sediment control plans were committed to at least 50 per year for each of the 42 Chesapeake Bay technicians.
Also regarding compliance inspections, the milestone commitment for 2016 was set at 1,100, with the initial focus not at CAFO or the less intensive concentrated animal feeding operations.
In addition, a mechanism to collected more agriculture BMP data, with 10 percent of the implemented practices verified, was developed.
The 2014-15 achievements for Pennsylvania included cropland transect surveys to track cover crop and conservation tillage data.
As of June 2015, Pennsylvania funded 433 nutrient management/manure management plans and 203 agriculture erosion and sediment control plans.
EPA did not identify any key areas to address in the 2016-17 milestone period.
However, EPA listed numerous strengths for commitments in Virginia.
These include four VPDES permits; more registrations for the resource management programs with an annual report that tabulates BMPs to get resource management plans on at least 10,000 agriculture acres per year.
Commitments include projecting the pace of BMP implementation for the 2025 targets; increasing the number of nutrient management plans on unpermitted beef operations and small dairies for 15,000 new acres on small farms, with 20 new NMPs on small dairy farms per year; and tracking new poultry house construction and evaluating its impact based on site-specific factors.
Other commitments include the completion of the remaining 100 small poultry evaluations as part of the small animal feeding operations strategy, including following up with farm owners who have agreed to initiate remedies; plus a database to track all of the agricultural stewardship complaints.
Tracking and reporting the progress of the 100 percent-funded stream exclusion initiative, plus advocating for funds to implement additional applications has also been committed. Virginia has allocated $32.5 million for implementation to support it over two years.
Virginia’s achievements in the 2014-15 milestone period, noted EPA, was continuing to provide funding for livestock exclusion through fiscal year 2015, and budgeted additional stream exclusion funding from $3.5 million in federal grants and $3 million in state funds.
In addition, $17.5 million during fiscal years 2016 and 2017 will be added. Plus, an additional $1.45 million in NRCS grant funds is available for livestock stream exclusion.
The RMP, including 12 additional certified developers is continuing, along with developing 278 RMPs covering 48,000 acres.
Although Virginia did not meet its 2015 milestone of evaluating all its small animal feeding operations, it evaluated more than 1,000, and has committed this effort for the remaining AFOs for the 2016-17 milestone period.
The agriculture sector milestones for both Maryland and Virginia are designated by EPA to “maintain ongoing oversight,’ while Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector is designated with the more stringent ‘maintain backstop actions level.’