Chesapeake Bay Commission Proposes $737 Million USDA Clean Water & Climate Resiliency Initiative In Federal Infrastructure Bill For Bay Watershed
On May 14, the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission sent a formal proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to create a $737 million, 10-year Clean Water and Climate Resiliency Program in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to help reach the Bay Program's 2025 cleanup milestones.
The appropriate vehicle for these funds, the Commission said, would be in the proposed federal Infrastructure Bill.
This proposal is in addition to a May 13 “Billion For The Bay Initiative” supported by the Commission and the states and District of Columbia in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Read more here.
In the cover letter to Secretary Vilsack, the Commission said, “In order to reach our 2025 Chesapeake Bay Partnership pollution reduction goals, it is imperative that additional agricultural conservation practices be implemented in the watershed.
“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a key partner agency to the Bay agreement, we are writing to enlist your assistance in delivering additional resources to meet these goals.
“We have attached a policy paper proposing the creation of a Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative (CRFI). We modeled the proposal after the Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI), which was created during your prior service as Secretary of Agriculture.
“A dedicated Chesapeake Bay initiative is needed because approximately 85 percent of the pollution reductions required by our 2025 deadline must come from agriculture and forestry.
“Without additional resources from our federal partners to assist farmers in the Bay watershed, we will not meet our goals.”
The letter was signed by the Chair of the Commission and the two Vice Chairs, including Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in Pennsylvania.
“USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides critical financial and technical support, but not at a level sufficient to meet the Bay region’s current needs.
“In 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the process for allocating NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds.
“It found that state allocations were largely driven by historical funding amounts instead of environmental need.
“As the GAO still lists its recommendations from this report as “open,” meaning that USDA has not yet taken corrective action, the problems persist.
“No Chesapeake watershed state exemplifies this problem more than Pennsylvania.
“The Commonwealth’s EQIP allocation is so inadequate that it would require an increase of 60 percent to meet the estimated needs.
“In short, Pennsylvania, the linchpin of Chesapeake Bay restoration, is not getting its fair share of EQIP dollars.
“In addition, Pennsylvania does not receive sufficient technical assistance funds that are independent of practice installation.
“On a per-farm basis, Pennsylvania gets about half the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) funding as the national average Modeled after the USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), a Baywide CRFI would provide funds for nutrient and sediment reductions that support state-based watershed implementation plans targeting funds to key sub-watersheds and priority practices.
“The MRBI was created in 2009 and has delivered over $300 million in the last ten years through existing programs, above what those programs would have delivered through basic allocations alone.
“The CRFI funds for financial and technical assistance would be targeted to watersheds that have been deemed the “most effective” for reducing the impacts of excess nutrients on downstream water quality in the Chesapeake Bay as well as practices that have dual benefits in terms of increasing farm resiliency to weather extremes and reducing greenhouse gases.
“This infusion of funds would address the shortfall in Conservation Technical Assistance for conservation planning, project design and engineering, which remains a significant obstacle in getting more practices on the ground.
“It would also provide the financial incentive payments necessary to install the full suite of practices prescribed.
“In establishing a CRFI, NRCS should work closely with watershed State Technical Committees and state agencies to ensure that efforts are well coordinated and will maximize the efforts and geographies that are most likely to contribute to clean water while mitigating climate change.
“And to ensure the maximum impact of Federal investment, the CRFI would be supplemented with state, NGO, farmer, and private sector investments to provide the final push to restore the Bay.
“The Bay needs an annual CRFI of $73.7 million for ten years.
“An appropriate source of these dollars could be the proposed Infrastructure Bill-- there is no greener “green infrastructure” than the agricultural conservation practices necessary to restore the Chesapeake Bay and the 100,000 miles of streams and rivers that define its watershed.”
Click Here for a full copy of the proposal. Questions should be directed to Ann Pesiri Swanson, Executive Director, by sending an email to: email@example.com or call the Commission’s office at 410-263-3420.
For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and more, visit the Chesapeake Bay Commission website.
[Posted: May 19, 2021]
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