On December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a historic and comprehensive “pollution diet.” The TMDL is the largest ever developed by EPA, encompassing a 64,000-square-mile watershed. A TMDL is a planning tool that provides the calculation of the maximum amount of a particular pollutant that a body of water can receive and still meet applicable water quality standards.
In Berks County, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is comprised of approximately 350 operations encompassing 56,000 acres. Upper Little Swatara Creek, Crosskill Creek, and the East and West Branch of the Conestoga River are the main tributaries. Agriculture is the dominant land use in all of these watersheds and consists mainly of dairy, crops, livestock and poultry.
Since the establishment of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL in 2010, the Berks County Conservation District (BCCD) has assisted a diverse range of agricultural operations with planning, design and implementation of agricultural conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed of Berks County. Conservation practices, frequently called best management practices, or BMPs, are tools that farmers can use to reduce soil and fertilizer runoff, properly manage animal waste, and protect water and air quality on their farms while achieving multiple positive environmental outcomes. These tools often improve a farmer’s bottom line as well by reducing operating costs. Many types of agricultural BMP’s exist, including waste storage facilities, conservation field practices such as cover crops and no-till, and streambank fencing with riparian buffers.
In addition to providing support with BMP design and implementation, the Berks County Conservation District has also provided extensive financial assistance to agricultural producers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the form of cost share payments to help offset the costs of BMP installation on agricultural operations. The funding for cost sharing has come from numerous sources such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the PA Department of Environmental Protection Growing Greener Grant Program and many other sources.
In 2018, the Berks County Conservation District requested and received a $387,000 grant from the Water Quality Improvements Along the Mariner 2 East Pipeline Corridor Project (WQIP) for the installation of agricultural best management practices (BMP’s) on the Doug and Michelle Zeiset dairy farm in Caernarvon Township, Berks County, PA to reduce nutrient and sediment losses to the Conestoga Headwaters area and hence the Chesapeake Bay.
Some of the resource concerns on the Zeiset dairy farm consisted of unrestricted livestock access to the Conestoga River, insufficient manure storage, and uncontrolled barnyard runoff. The funding was used to construct a roofed heavy-use area with liquid and solid manure storage and the installation of a 5- acre riparian buffer on the Conestoga River. In addition, this spring will see the installation of a liquid manure storage that will provide the Zeiset’s with 6 months of storage and also provide barnyard improvements to eliminate barnyard runoff.
Recently, as part of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, the PA Department of Environmental Protection issued directives to all 43 Counties in the PA portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed concerning required nutrient and sediment reductions. In order to meet Berks County’s required nutrient reductions, the BCCD has applied for and received approximately $2,500,000 in cost share funding to assist farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Berks County with the planning and installation of agricultural BMP’s. BCCD is also in the process of applying for grant funding to assist farmers with installing cover crops and implementing precision nutrient management.
The Berks County Conservation District is here to assist farmers in implementing BMP’s that reduce nutrient and sediment pollution. Please contact the Berks County Conservation District at (610)-372- 4657 if you are interested in an assessment of your farm for possible BMP installation and cost share funding.