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Chesapeake Plan's Watershed Impact

FARMVILLE – This spring the Commonwealth Regional Council, being the local region's planning district, heard from the Division Director for the Department of Conservation and Recreation on Virginia's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan that is now in Phase Two and how the forth-coming work to meet water quality standards could ultimately impact the local area in the future.

“It was very informative and you did a great job presenting the information to us,” noted CRC Chairman Gary Walker after the presentation, “and I don't want to shoot the messenger but if you could take a message back, we're closing schools and laying off teachers and our employees haven't had a raise in three or four years and for them to come up with a new program-something else for us to do-it's just almost unbearable. Please don't take it as a personal thing. I'm glad you told us about it. We need to be aware of it because it's something we need to take up with our state legislatures and with our Congressmen. This EPA, that's making the regulations. Congress isn't making these regulations. EPA is making these regulations but somehow or another Congress has to get a grip on them and I thank you for doing a good job of making us aware of it.”

According to Joan Salvati's presentation, DCR division director, the Chesapeake Bay watershed remains a challenged ecosystem and the tidal waters of the Bay continue to be enriched with the nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, which leads to habitat and animal problems and water quality concerns even in upstream rivers, she said.

“It covers a large part of the state,” she continued about Phase Two of the plan that will subdivide the EPA requirements and subdivide them into a “local level scale.”

The result, she offered, is a local target or local goal that's provided to each local government.

“We would say to the local government working with the PDC…We've subdivided those segment shed allocations and the goal for your locality is 'x.' We'll give you a number for nutrient, phosphorus, and sediment and then once those goals are identified and conveyed, we work with the localities including elected officials…or whoever the localities or the PDC feels should be brought to the table and what we discuss is what kinds of practices do you all already have on the ground that you may not be getting credit for in this model and then how can your existing programs be enhanced to meet this goal?”

The state has until 2025 to implement strategies to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, according to Ms. Salvati, and so the EPA wants two-year milestones towards meeting the overall goal and the Phase Two portion related to a locality and their target goal concerning the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can flow into the waters is just a portion of the state's plan.

Also, Ms. Salvati noted that two localities could work together on their target goal but that each county would still be given its own load reduction goal by the state.

When asked about how the counties would pay for the programs and resources needed to reach this target load goal once its received in the future, Ms. Salvati noted that she was “nervous” about characterizing the amount of funding needed but that she “believes there will be funding available” when the time comes.

According to her presentation, the state also wants to work with each locality to establish baseline data; to do a current resource assessment; and practice identification; identify existing program evaluation (such as forestry and agricultural plans and programs already in place); and work to create conservation strategies.

“We've been reaching out to the planning districts…and we want to know what kind of role you want to play and we want to collect information from the local governments…,” advised Ms. Salvati about what the future holds for the watershed implementation plan where several components still need legislative action.

Present for the meeting to hear the presentation were three local representatives from the Virginia Department of Forestry and two from the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation.

In Virginia, the watershed plan, which includes total daily maximum load criteria-establishing how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment can flow into the waters of the Bay while maintaining a water quality required by the EPA, would be enacted for half of the state's land mass, Ms. Salvati continued to explain.

Since Phase One of this plan is already completed, DCR is now working towards Phase Two of this plan, which ultimately would require legislative action during the next General Assembly session, and require work from the local governments because each local county and or town or city would have to have it's own target load identified in the larger plan that is submitted by the state in its plan to the EPA for approval.

The stakeholders in this plan include the five river basins in Virginia; the 16 planning districts, 32 soil and water conservation districts, 40 (sub-basins) segment sheds, 96 counties/cities, and 216 locality segments, said Ms. Salvati.

Potential Impact On Farming And Forestry

As the state developed the Watershed Implementation Plan, significant feedback was received from the agricultural and forestry community, Salvati noted.

“What they have proposed, and the Governor accepted, is that as an option a farmer can do…a resource management plan on his or her farm and that plan should include a nutrient management plan, livestock exclusion 35 foot buffers, and soil conservation practices and those practices need to get reported to the state so that the farmers that are doing those can get credit for them and we can input it in the Chesapeake Watershed model.”

The kicker is-should a farmer do these things, and then when any additional future regulations are passed they have a “safe harbor,” noted Ms. Salvati.

“What this does is it allows the farmer to assess what kinds of practices are most applicable for what kind of farming it does,” she said.

According to Ms. Salvati, the Virginia Farm Bureau was a major “push” to this concept.

“The WIP (Watershed Implementation Plan) was drafted and it didn't have this in it,” she said. “The Farm Bureau pretty much gave us language and said for us to put it in there. This is their concept but there will be regulations developed and there will be a regulatory advisory panel…”

Regional Forester Ed Zimmer explained that the “safe harbor” concept isn't a new concept and has been proven with endangered species in the past.

“It's the classic win-win for the farmer and the landowner and the resource…the Bay…You don't have free reign but you are agreeing to play by these rules…,” he suggested. “If that's how it works out then that's great.”

Budget Talks

During the meeting in April, Chairman Walker advised that the CRC staff had been working to bring the organization's budget inline and the goal is by the end of the year to have the organization in the black.

In regard to the Council's proposed budget, the insurance premiums for health and dental did decrease, Mary Hickman, acting CEO and president explained by $2,000, which reduces the expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year.

The 2011-2012 proposed budget does not include any staff reductions and the draft also notes that the proposed draft expenditures are below the revenue.

Ms. Hickman also noted that Cumberland County did rejoin the CRC and will be a member for the new fiscal year.

The Council's budget must be approved by June 30, Ms. Hickman noted.

After the budget presentation, Chairman Walker asked the Council to consider, since the CRC's staff hadn't received a salary increase in three years, some type of bonus if project funding detailed in the budget increases over the anticipated amount and for that additional funding to go into some type of reserve “pool.”

“If it increases over the budgeted amount, we create some type of pool that 25 percent of anything that is increased over the budget would go into that budget and at the end we could give some type of bonus or whatever you would like to call it,” suggested Chairman Walker. “It would be contingent upon having project funding that is not budgeted of whatever number the Board would like to set-it could be one percent but I think it would be wise. It recognizes the hard work of the staff and it's an incentive to work harder.”

This idea wasn't finalized during this meeting.

The CRC's next meeting is Thursday, June 2 at 5 p.m. During this meeting, the 2011-2012 budget is set for adoption.