The following appeared in Lynchburg's The News & Advance earlier this week.
Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the “Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act,” commonly known as the Farm Bill. Thanks to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, Jim Webb and other U.S. senators from Chesapeake Bay states, the bill includes measures that ensure farmers in the Bay region receive critical cost-share dollars and technical assistance to reduce farm runoff pollution.
Much of the poor water quality in Virginia’s streams, rivers, and the Bay is directly related to an excess of fertilizer and other pollutants running off the land when it rains. This runoff pollution causes algal blooms, creates “dead zones” of oxygen-starved water, kills fish, crabs and oysters and results in lost economic opportunities.
Much of the excess fertilizer comes from agriculture. Despite farmers’ progress in limiting erosion and fertilizer runoff over the past several years, there is still more to be done.
That’s why in 2008, Bay state senators and representatives worked hard to ensure the last Farm Bill contained the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, a provision that guaranteed $188 million specifically for farm conservation programs that reduce runoff in the Bay region.
This year, however, agriculture committees in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have sought to strip that funding from the 2012 Farm Bill now before Congress. While everyone is rightly concerned about reducing federal spending, zeroing out conservation dollars that reduce water pollution is counterproductive.
Why? Water pollution kills jobs and drags down the economy. Consider the dramatic decline of Virginia’s once robust seafood industry and the billions of dollars in lost revenues as a result.
Consider the slow demise of the waterfront communities that depended upon once-abundant oysters, fish and crabs. Consider the public health threats and lost tourism and recreation dollars when summer beaches are closed because of bacteria pollution. And consider the growing costs to localities to provide clean drinking water, prevent flooding and treat wastewater.
Dirty water hurts fisheries, people and the economy. Cutting clean water programs jeopardizes our quality of life and our children’s future economic prosperity.
On the flipside, clean streams and rivers and a restored Bay are economic engines: people want to live, work, and play by clean waterways, they want to catch and eat the seafood from them, they want to vacation beside them, and businesses seek to locate near them.
Further, the very conservation programs that reduce pollution and clean up our waterways create new jobs and new economic activity.
A University of Virginia study concluded that every public dollar spent on conservation programs that reduce farm pollution produces $1.56 in new economic activity and, if implemented across Virginia to meet Bay cleanup goals, such investments could create 12,000 jobs of at least a year’s duration.
That’s why all who care about clean water and a healthy economy should thank Sens. Warner and Webb and their Bay state colleagues for successfully restoring conservation funding for Bay region farmers in the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill.
Now it’s the House of Representatives’ turn, and last week, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen introduced H.R. 6068 aimed at providing similar conservation funding in the House version of the Farm Bill. The bipartisan bill has 16 co-sponsors, including Virginia Reps. Scott Rigell, Rob Wittman, Frank Wolf, Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran and Bobby Scott.
Virginia’s other House members—Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Robert Hurt, Eric Cantor, Randy Forbes and Morgan Griffin—need to sign on, too, and support clean water and Virginia farmers.
Virginia has set ambitious but achievable goals to reduce pollution in local streams and rivers as part of its Chesapeake Bay restoration blueprint. Reducing farm runoff by approximately half is a crucial part of the state’s plan. Virginia simply won’t succeed in providing clean water to its citizens and restoring the Chesapeake Bay without this important conservation assistance in the Farm Bill.
The time for all of Virginia’s members of Congress to step up is now.
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Learn more about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best hope for a save Bay!