EPA Outlines New Bay Cleanup Guidelines

The Environmental Protection Agency released guidelines it hopes will help the federal government lead the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay by example. The guidance for federal land management includes recommendations that can be adopted by others, including farmers and state and local officials. The federal government, for example, has little land specifically dedicated to agriculture, but the recommendations include not applying fertilizer containing phosphorus if soil tests find phosphorus saturation above 20-percent.

The report’s author, Dov Weitman, head of the EPA’s Nonpoint Source Control Branch, said the report looked first at agriculture, which is the source of nearly half the pollution entering the bay. However, he noted grass is the single largest crop in the watershed covering 3.8-million acres, including lawns at federal facilities ranging from military bases to research complexes, and the soil-test recommendation is appropriate for those facilities as well.

Federal agencies own nearly 8-percent of the land in the bay watershed making the federal government one of the largest landowners in the watershed. While agriculture is the biggest source of bay pollution, urban and suburban runoff is the only significant source that is increasing. Construction sites, for example, can contribute the most sediment of all land uses, as much as 10 to 20 times that of agricultural lands, EPA said in releasing the recommendations.

The recommendations are open for public comment and will be included in the final bay restoration strategy the EPA will release in May in response to President Obama’s executive order last spring. The federal agency has said the strategy will put the bay on a “pollution diet,” establishing what are known as TMDLs, or total maximum daily loads for various pollutants. Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said the phosphorus testing recommendation, like many other of the recommendations, is still a work in progress with farmers waiting to hear what the final regulations will be. Stoneman said the amount at which phosphorus application should stop, for example, depends on which scientist you talk to.