On Monday, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced awards of more than $2.6 million in grants to 36 conservation districts within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The funds will support 50 staff positions providing farms with technical assistance for Best Management Practices.
County conservation districts receiving the grant awards are: Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wyoming and York.
Conservation district funding in recent years has been decimated by state and county budget shortfalls. The grants also will, according to DEP Secrfetary Mike Krancer, "increase public awareness of DEP regulations and environmental requirements in the agricultural community. It's an excellent opportunity to work with conservation districts to further protect our waterways and our environment through educational outreach."
The State Conservation Commission, which oversees the funding DEP provides to conservation districts, approved the department's allocation of Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant (CBIG) funds for Chesapeake Bay technicians and engineers in various conservation districts. Part of the districts' responsibility under these grants is to reach out to farm operations and inform the ag community of their regulatory obligations. Conservation district staff will begin farm visits this month.
More than $800,000 from the CBIG was awarded to 46 ag projects and targeted to impaired watersheds. Funding was granted for projects that focus on agricultural BMPs, such as no-till/conservation tillage; cover crops; conservation and nutrient management planning activities; and riparian corridor improvements.
Since 1972, all Pennsylvania farms have been subject to environmental regulations. They specify that farmers must maintain ag erosion and sedimentation control or conservation plans for all cropland and areas heavily used by animals.
Farms handling manure are required to have a nutrient management plan and use the state's Manure Management Manual. Unlike some laws, manure management requirements apply to all farms, not only large farms that are considered Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or Concentrated Animal Operations (CAOs).
The Manure Management Manual includes requirements for winter application of manure and setbacks from streams, drinking water supplies and sinkholes. As with the required written agricultural erosion control plans, a written manure management plan is required.