This is the second in a series of blogs on how community conservation
groups worked with farmers in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and
Rockingham County, Virginia, to improve the water quality of local
streams and rivers through various Best Management Practices. Read the first part here.
Planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along streams help absorb and filter harmful pollutants running off from the fields before they enter our waters. Photo courtesy of John Page Williams/CBF Staff.
Publication of the TMDL brought availability of cost-share
funding to the farmers for conservation practices from Section 319 of the Clean
Water Act, which provides federal support to help state
and local agencies focus on nonpoint source pollution problems. In the
beginning of the project, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Farm
Stewardship Program provided matching funds for restoration of forested
In the middle of the decade, many
farmers also qualified for cost-share assistance from the Conservation Reserve
Enhancement and Environmental Quality Incentives Programs of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (CREP and EQIP) and from Pennsylvania’s Growing
Greener Program (Department of Environmental Protection). USDA also offered assistance from its
Bradford County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff. CBF added technical assistance from local
stream buffer specialists Jennifer Johns and Steve Smith.
Jen Johns grew up on a sheep/beef/veal/hog farm in
nearby Sugar Run. She has academic
training in both environmental science and social work. “It’s worth taking time to build
relationships and network with the community,” said Johns. “We have good teamwork between NRCS, the
District, and CBF. Most people don’t
care who works for whom, as long as we get the projects done right.”
To restore Mill Creek, the solutions were agricultural
Best Management Practices (BMPs), especially nutrient management planning, excluding
livestock from streams, and managing manure.
Over the next ten years, Lovegreen, Johns, Smith, and the other team
members visited all 13 of the farms to explain the ecological need for
BMPs and, in many cases, their advantages for the health of the farms’ cows. Working with each farmer, they developed a
plan specific to the operation’s needs.
The local, person-to-person approach was the key to developing trust and
convincing all of Mill Creek’s farmers to join the project.
Then the work
began. Virtually every project included
streambank fencing and associated facilities, like alternative water sources
and stabilized stream crossings; planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses
along the stream courses; building manure storage facilities that allowed the
farmers to avoid having to spread manure on frozen ground during Bradford’s
long winters; stabilizing barnyard and heavy use areas; and setting up milkhouse
waste treatment systems using constructed wetlands. In a couple of cases, the project partners
helped farmers build new barns to move their cows away from the stream.
Finally, the team used the Natural Stream Channel
Design approach to restore two deeply-eroded sections of Mill Creek that were
contributing the bulk of the sediment going into the lake.
By 2005, monitoring studies made it clear that the
restoration was working. Phosphorus and
sediment levels had dropped 52 percent and 59 percent, respectively, far enough to comply
with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (TMDL). They have
stayed low since. Everyone involved
breathed a sigh of relief, celebrated briefly, but then got back to work,
because there was one important problem remaining: the lake’s bottom had over
time caught so much phosphorus that the pollutant would periodically re-suspend
with changing water temperatures.
The lake has not yet met its pollution limit
requirements, but it is getting close, because Mike Lovegreen and his team have
worked out a system that siphons water from the lake bottom into a constructed
wetland below the dam. Look for more
improvement over the next couple of years as this wetland scrubs the lake
—John Page Williams
Stay tuned for how forested streamside buffers
and other innovative methods helped restore other watersheds.
Constructed wetlands like these also help filter out harmful pollutants from our waters. Photo courtesy of John Page Williams/CBF Staff.