There has been a lot of activity related to the Chesapeake Bay recently that could have a very significant impact on agriculture in Pennsylvania, says Douglas Beegle, Penn State soil fertility specialist.

The current Chesapeake Bay Agreement had the goal of achieving nutrient and sediment reductions sufficient to remove the Bay from the Clean Water Act list of impaired waters by 2010.

While significant progress has been made, Beegle says this goal will not be met. Consequently, in May, President Obama issued an Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration directing the federal government to lead an interagency, collaborative effort to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The purpose of the Executive Order is “to protect and restore the health, heritage, natural resources, and social and economic value of the nation's largest estuarine ecosystem and the natural sustainability of its watershed.” That order directed federal agencies to develop reports on the key challenges to protecting and restoring the Bay, Beegle says.

This Draft Strategy for Chesapeake Bay Focused on Federal Action and Accountability was published on Nov. 9. For agriculture, Beegle says the strategy assumes that mismanagement on farms is the cause of the problems, but it does not address the underlying regional nutrient imbalance that is beyond the control of individual farmers.

"Consequently, the strategy puts major emphasis on more regulations and more enforcement of regulations requiring management changes on farms to address water quality concerns," Beegle says. "For example the strategy proposes to expand stronger standards for permits, including permits for land application of manure."

Beegle says the strategy also emphasizes the role of economic markets for ecosystem services as an innovative way to provide landowners with an incentive to practice sustainable agriculture and forestry. Part of the strategy includes an initiative called “Healthy Water, Thriving Agriculture” which calls for USDA and EPA to work together to align resources to accelerate the adoption of conservation practices in priority watersheds and develop the next generation of conservation planning tools.

"This strategy has the potential to dramatically change agriculture in Pennsylvania," Beegle says. "We all have a stake in the outcome and we need to stay informed and, as appropriate, take an active role in the process as this strategy is developed."

This draft strategy is available for public comment until Jan. 8, 2010.

A separate but related ongoing activity is the court-ordered development of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay, Beegle says. The TMDL will establish strict limits on nutrient and sediment loads to the Bay.

"These limits will be established in 92 sub-watersheds covering the entire Bay watershed," Beegle says. "The limits will address all sources of nutrients and sediment from both point and nonpoint sources."

The Bay TMDL is to be completed by December 2010. A draft TMDL and implementation strategy is to be complete by August 2010. Work on the TMDL is already underway within EPA and public meetings on the TMDL are being held now.

Upcoming meetings on the TMDL in Pennsylvania are scheduled as follows:

* Nov. 17, 2 to 4 p.m. at Bentleys, 2300 Route 309, Ashley, Pa.

* Nov. 18, 5 to 7 p.m. at Genetti Hotel, 200 W. Fourth St., Williamsport, Pa.

* Nov. 19, 2 to 4 p.m. at Toftrees Golf Resort & Conference Center, One Country Club Lane, State College, Pa.

* Nov. 23, 2 to 4 p.m. at Franklin and Marshall College, Barshinger Life Sciences and Philosophy Building, Boncheck Lecture Hall, 929 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster, Pa.