The following is a reprint of a guest column written by CBF Virginia State Director Ann Jennings and published in The News Leader today. The piece addresses incorrect statements in The News Leader's recent editorial "Distribute Blame Fairly."
Remember the telephone game? Most of us played this game as children. We sat in a circle and whispered a phrase into the ear of the person seated next to us — by the time the phrase made it around the circle, the result was so unrecognizable from the original that hysterical giggles ensued.
But the game isn't so funny when adults unwittingly repeat what they've been told. I believe that's what happened when The News Leader ran its "Distribute Blame Fairly" editorial. The Virginia Farm Bureau has whispered in the ear of their members and local legislators, who likely whispered into the ear of The News Leader and behold, the text that ran in the paper about the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2010 is unfortunately wrong. It would be funny like the telephone game if the water quality in the Shenandoah River and the health of the Chesapeake Bay were not at stake.
Scientists from the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program calculate that agriculture is among the largest land uses in the watershed and contributes 33 percent of the nitrogen pollution, 43 percent of the phosphorus pollution, and 50 percent of the sediment pollution that must be reduced in Virginia. In the Shenandoah Valley, you can't spend time on the water without seeing farms with cows urinating and defecating in the streams and tearing up the stream banks.
For years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has worked hand-in-hand with farmers to help them implement conservation practices. Last year alone, our agricultural team worked with local Soil and Water Conservation districts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers fence 75 miles of stream shoreline and plant almost 1,000 acres in riparian buffers. We are committed to being part of the solution because we want to preserve open farmland — a well-managed farm is better for the health of the watershed than a suburb or a parking lot.
The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act is part of the solution needed to restore our rivers and streams. The bill does not place a disproportionate cost burden on the backs of family farmers. In fact, it could be a financial gain for Virginia farmers. If passed, the bill will:
- Authorize no less than $96 million in new funds for technical assistance to support agricultural conservation practices. This is in addition to the $600 million already available as part of the Farm Bill for Chesapeake Stewardship Grants.
- Provide for new rural jobs — more than 11,000 new jobs of at least a year's duration, according to an economic study by the University of Virginia.
- Create an interstate pollution credit program that will allow farmers to sell conservation credits at a profit to municipalities and wastewater treatment plants and reduce pollution in a more cost-effective manner. Economists estimate that the credit program could generate up to $50 million in annual revenue for Virginia's farmers.
The legislation does NOT require farmers to obtain EPA permits for an ordinary farming operation, no matter the size of the farm, as stated by some in the agricultural community.
In fact, the bill allows the Commonwealth to determine how best to address pollution reductions for most farmers.
The bill does not ask farmers to do more than their fair share and certainly will not drive farmers to give up their way of life. As The News Leader suggests, cleaning up local rivers and the Bay is everyone's responsibility — homeowners, local governments, developers, farmers, legislators, and conservationists. Truth be told, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act asks all of us to do our part. Passage will assure that we have healthy rivers and streams that valley residents can enjoy, as well as a vibrant farm economy.