- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Chesapeake Bay advocates and government officials from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania announced their support Monday for a federal farm bill that they say would drastically improve water quality in the Bay and its watershed.
In an analysis released Monday, supporters of the bill now before the U.S. Senate say it would increase funding up to eight times for land conservation practices in each of the three primary watershed states.
"Never before have we had such a chance to increase funds going to agricultural conservation," said Pennsylvania state Rep. Russ Fairchild, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. "This is an exceptional opportunity."
The analysis was jointly prepared by the commission, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the offices of natural resources secretaries in Maryland and Virginia, as well as regional agricultural advocates.
J. Charles Fox, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the state needs to triple its commitment to keeping harmful pollutants out of the Bay and its tributaries.
"Maryland and its surrounding states are willing to make that extra effort, but we'll need a sizable new investment from the federal government," he said.
There are 7.2 million acres of cropland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes parts of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But three-fourths of farmers seeking federal assistance to implement conservation measures through the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP) were rejected in 2001, the analysis states.
The main causes of water-quality problems in the Bay are elevated levels of two nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous which occur naturally in soil, animal waste and plant material. Sewage-treatment plants, industries, vehicle exhaust, acid rain and runoff from agricultural, residential and urban areas also contribute to the harmful nutrients.
Agriculture is estimated to contribute 30 percent of the nitrogen and 41 percent of the phosphorus to the Bay and its tributaries, the analysis said.
Nutrient excesses are manifested in harmful algae blooms, fish kills and oxygen depletion, which can choke animal life.
The analysis also endorses the incorporation or restoration of biological sinks, including grassy waterways, cover crops and wetlands to catch rainwater and retain the polluting nutrients.
As it stands, the bill would provide $1.7 billion for EQUIP, enough to cover every farmer who seeks funding to plant cover crops, plant protective buffers and other means to mitigate nutrient impact. It also calls for $70 million for a Chesapeake Bay watershed nitrogen-reduction pilot program.
"Farmers were the first conservationists, and most farmers today are hampered in that effort due to lack of funds," said W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., Virginia's secretary of natural resources.
Farm bills are currently working their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Both measures would increase farm subsidies sharply, but with a different mix of formulas and payment triggers.
Farm groups have been pushing lawmakers to finish their work on the bill by the time Congress breaks for its Easter recess on March 22 so that the legislation can take effect for this year's crops.

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