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USDA Leaders Share Successes, Goals for Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan addresses the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council and members of the press.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan addresses the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council and members of the press.

On July 11, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and I traveled to Richmond, Virginia to represent USDA at the annual Chesapeake Bay Executive Council (CBEC) meeting. The CBEC is the governing body of Bay restoration and protection efforts, and it includes leaders from federal agencies and states across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The theme of this year’s day-long Executive Council meeting was “Get Grounded in Your Watershed.” In their public remarks, Executive Council members encouraged everyone living and working the Bay watershed to take the time to think about their “environmental footprint,” or how many resources they use in their daily lives, and to take simple steps that will help restore the Chesapeake Bay.

During the morning session, the Executive Council heard presentations on the state of the Bay from numerous scientists and other experts. The general consensus is that much work has been done to restore the Bay, but there is much work left to do.

USDA works one-on-one with farmers across the massive Chesapeake Bay watershed to improve natural resources on their land, and the recent release of our Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) cropland report for the Chesapeake Bay region shows that farmers are making a real difference for Bay water quality.

The CEAP report also shows that some challenges remain, particularly the persistent issue of subsurface nitrogen losses from agricultural fields. Thanks to the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA has more funding than ever before to assist farmers across the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and we hope that in the years to come, all of our hard work will be reflected in water quality improvements in the Bay and its tributaries.

At the Executive Council meeting, Deputy Secretary Merrigan stressed the importance of states providing agricultural producers with some degree of certainty that if the producers undertake conservation efforts to minimize pollution coming from their lands, they will not be asked to do more in the future.

We at USDA believe that this concept, commonly referred to as “Agricultural Certainty,” can help accelerate private lands conservation in the Bay watershed by incentivizing farmers’ proactive participation in conservation programs.

We also believe that a sustainable and thriving agricultural sector is part of the solution to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and we are committed to working with our partners to provide the tools and incentives needed to make this happen.

Read about USDA’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative.

Check out other conservation stories on the USDA blog.

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