Farmers and landowners in three “showcase” watersheds in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia will receive more money and technical help from the federal government to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced earlier this week.

“Agriculture remains a key part of the solution to the Chesapeake Bay restoration,” Merrigan said at farm in Pennsylvania’s showcase watershed.

“The showcase watersheds strengthen USDA’s commitment to funding priority conservation practices in places that will do the most good for water quality in the Bay and its tributaries,” Merrigan said.

The three featured watersheds are the 23,000-acre Upper Chester River Watershed in Maryland’s Eastern Shore; the 34,000-acre Conewago Creek Watershed in Central Pennsylvania, where Merrigan announced the showcase watersheds; and the 67,000-acre Smith Creek Watershed in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

The USDA is responsible for implementing new conservation practices on 4 million acres of farmland through 2025. Farmers and forest owners in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will have access to resources to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of the streams, creeks and rivers which drain into the bay.

The USDA will target federal money to where it will have the greatest impact on improving water quality impact. The department will also see that the conservation work farmers do is accurately reported and credited.

The USDA’s work in the Chesapeake Bay is funded, in large part, by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). The initiative is one of the largest single federal investments in work to improve water quality in the bay and its watershed.

The 2008 Farm Bill established the CBWI and provided what USDA says is an unprecedented $188 million from 2009 — 2012 to support restoration of the watershed.

The showcase watersheds are designed to demonstrate water quality improvements through expanded producer outreach, innovative conservation practices and intensive conservation planning, implementation and monitoring.

The USDA, EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) want to communicate to every farmer in each of the watersheds to gauge their conservation practices and to explain that more money and technical assistance is available.

The USDA has committed more money and staff and the EPA is providing money to support coordination and nutrient management. The USGS plans to assist with monitoring that evaluates the water quality impact of the increased conservation treatment.

Each showcase watershed also is supported by a diverse group of non-governmental partners, including local watershed groups and non-profits that are committing substantial resources to the coordinated effort. 

For more information about NRCS Chesapeake Bay activities, visit