Chesapeake Bay water clean-up regs would 'flood' Midwest farms

Chesapeake Bay water clean-up regs would 'flood' Midwest farms

Chesapeake Bay ag authorities and farmers alert Illinois Soybean Association farmers of EPA's regulatory implications for the Midwest. (Part 1 of 3)

This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two, Chesapeake Bay water clean-up model: What Midwest farmers learned and part three, Chesapeake model: Who'll pay for Mississippi River's clean-up?


Last Thursday, five Illinois Soybean Association growers returned home spooked by their three-day fact-finding mission to Eastern Shore Maryland and Delaware. The most cogent take-home message was: U.S. EPA's Chesapeake Bay [water cleanup] model may be headed into the Midwest. And it would impact all farmland, not just concentrated animal feeding operations.

The biggest question was: How soon? No bets were placed on that one since it hinges more on political science than sound science.

A MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR EVERY ACRE? ISA Production Committee members (from left) Guinnip, Droste, Longley, Cates and Winkelmann were struck by the details required in the 3-inch-thick nutrient and conservation management plan book required for all 2,000 acres of Kevin Evan's Evans Farms crop and vegetable operation at Bridgeville, Del.

The next biggest question was: How can farmers and states abutting the Mississippi River pro-actively prepare for it? Led by the association's Production Committee Chairman Donald Guinnip of Marshall, Ill., the fact-finders included Daryl Cates of Columbia, David Droste of Nashville, John Longley of Aledo and Carrie Winkelmann of Tallula, Ill.

Related: Water Works lawsuit will slow progress on water quality

They learned the regulatory details of Maryland's mandatory nutrient management program and Delaware's voluntary nutrient management plan from State Ag Secretaries Joe Bartenfelder of Maryland and Ed Kee of Delaware, along with the lead managers of both states nutrient management programs. And they visited farms to learn first-hand how crop and broiler chicken producers were coping by the Chesapeake Bay model.

Why the concern?

Since President Obama's 2009 executive order declaring the Chesapeake Bay a "national treasure," this Bay model has been under intense scrutiny and monitoring for progress by EPA, Army Corp of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey.

During Fiscal Year 2014, more than $460 million was poured into Chesapeake Bay restoration by the federal government alone, for specific watershed implementation goals to be carried out by state agencies. Another $434 million in federal monies was committed for FY15.

Waterkeeper environmental groups on the lower Mississippi River already have threatened to bring suit against EPA and Army Corp of Engineers, reports Richard Wilkins, first vice president of the American Soybean Association. The latest threat came in March when the Des Moines [Iowa] Water Works filed a lawsuit against three northern Iowa drainage districts for nitrate pollution of the Raccoon River watershed.

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The Iowa lawsuit may be a likely Bay model precursor . . . just as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's initial lawsuit against EPA was the trigger for the Chesapeake Bay's pollution diet, suggests Wilkins, a Greenwood, Del., farmer.

The Chesapeake Bay Model, if imposed on the Mississippi River Basin, could mandate that all 13 states develop watershed implementation plans covering all croplands, not just CAFOs. The Illinois farmers were really spooked by the extensive required nutrient management records on all fields, the equally extensive best management practices needed, and the education and regulatory oversight required. High nitrates in the Kankakee River and Lake Springfield are already well-known problems.

'Show us the money'

The second most important "take home" to the Midwest is: Where's all the money for research, education, cost-sharing and monitoring of a voluntary nutrient management program in each state going to come from? Again, this isn't just about CAFOs. It's about many crop management practices that would have to be changed.

Related: Water quality on the farm: Regulations have cost implications

Guinnip noted that Illinois' 2015-16 state budget, not just its Ag Department budget, has been slashed. Some conservation districts, a key gear in the Bay model, exist in name only with few or no staff.

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