Watershed Implementation Plan Work in Progress | national news


COLLEGE PARK – Chesapeake Bay’s restoration goals cannot be achieved overnight; it takes years of coordination, cooperation and compromise to bring about the changes needed to positively affect water quality, experts say. Gurpal Toor, a professor, extension specialist and associate chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was awarded a $3.2 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to work under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement to provide research-based science to the Chesapeake Bay Program for Agriculture and its contribution to water quality problems.

“UMD’s partnership with federal and state agencies to help restore the Chesapeake Bay allows us to use science to guide policymaking in our backyards,” said Toor, who leads a project team of three faculty members. “This is a complex project with huge ramifications for improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, and the university has a long history of working with the EPA.”

The goal of the project, with funding running through 2027, is to address water quality goals by understanding agricultural inputs and other non-point sources of nutrient pollution like nitrogen and phosphorus, and to a lesser extent, sediments. Agriculture is a vital part of food production for more than 18 million residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes parts of six states – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia – and the entire District of Columbia. At the same time, agriculture is also a main source of nutrient pollution in the bay.

“Most of the project’s efforts are focused on agriculture, with a parallel conversation on urban and other non-point sources, but it’s really about nutrients and how the transport of nutrients from the land affects the water quality in the bay,” Toor said. “Having this project at AGNR allows us to demonstrate our familiarity with our local resources and enables us to provide research-based science to help make policy decisions that take our farmers into account.”

The work includes several objectives that will support the implementation of best management practices and provide better data inputs into models that inform programs and policies related to water quality objectives for the bay and its tributaries throughout. the watershed region.

“One of the main goals of the EPA is to protect water quality, and the best tool they have is the Chesapeake Bay model to help understand agricultural nutrient loads at different locations in the basin. slope,” Toor said.

“We want to improve the input data to the agricultural model…to more accurately represent the current agricultural contributions of nutrients and sediments to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” said Mark Dubin, senior agricultural advisor for the project. Dubin is designing research projects in partnership with other universities and agencies to develop more robust and accurate information about input sources and their variability to fill identified gaps in the model. A member of the project since 2006, Dubin also helps agencies and partners develop approved methods to track, report and verify best management practices implemented to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.

“There are a lot of complicated factors in tracking nutrient intake, so the model has to account for those factors,” Toor said. “There is variability in the landscape, and the model tries to capture that variability.”

The Chesapeake Bay model informs each state’s watershed implementation plan about how much nitrogen and phosphorus from non-point sources such as agriculture and urban stormwater is allowed to flow in tributary waters. This amount corresponds to the region’s Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, and each region/state has a target TMDL determined by the many factors of the Chesapeake Bay Model.

Decisions on TMDLs and regional BMPs, such as field buffers or cover crops, are informed through a global collaboration of the Chesapeake Bay Program Agriculture Working Group (AgWG). This stakeholder group, made up of county, state and federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations, industry representatives and academic scientists, provides expertise in agriculture management, research science, programs and policy,” says Loretta Collins, AgWG Coordinator. .

“The AgWG provides expertise on the latest research findings related to best management practices in agriculture and identifies areas where further understanding is needed,” said Collins, who has been with the project for more than five years.

“We have a unique thing in that we coordinate all agricultural activity around the Chesapeake Bay, so the task force discusses things that are happening across the federal landscape and things on the horizon that could potentially affect farmers,” Toor said.

Then the working group receives the issue, the members discuss the issue with subject matter experts, and the group makes recommendations and produces a report, which is forwarded to the Quality Goals Implementation Team. EPA water, Toor said. “It’s all about trade-offs – how can we get the cleanest environment while allowing farms and small businesses to make a profit.”

While regulatory decisions are made at the federal level, local jurisdictions in the bay must take the lead in honoring the original 2014 watershed agreement to take recommended actions to reduce nutrient runoff into the basin. pouring. Maryland offers many incentive programs for farmers to adopt BMPs for better water quality, but other areas have a less direct interest due to their proximity to the bay.

For three years. Ruth Cassilly, the project’s nonpoint source policy analyst, advised each Bay Area jurisdiction on potential ways to reduce pollution sources to meet their TMDL goal.

“I play a role in facilitating the development and use of precision conservation and other technical tools that analyze nutrient loads and sources, enabling stakeholders to target best management practices to maximize conservation. nutrient and sediment reduction,” Cassilly said. “My job is to provide stakeholders with the information they need to use limited resources more efficiently to achieve maximum pollution reduction results.”

Improving the bay’s water quality has several benefits, not only for Maryland, but also for the surrounding watershed. Home to populations of blue crabs, oysters and multiple species of highly sought-after fish, the bay offers both work and recreation opportunities for the mid-Atlantic region.

“I think most everyone working on these efforts understands that things start at the local level,” Collins said. “People should care for and contribute to the improvement and maintenance of their local streams and rivers, which, in turn, will benefit the bay.”

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