Thursday, September 8, 2016

Conservation Districts: DEP Farm Inspections Not Resolved In Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Pennsylvania’s conservation districts Thursday voiced their concerns about DEP’s Chesapeake Bay “reboot strategy” during the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting in Lancaster.
Lancaster County Conservation District Manager Christopher Thompson addressed the Committee on behalf of the PA Association of Conservation Districts.
Thompson briefed attendees on the issues conservation districts are now facing as a result of the reboot strategy.
In January 2016, conservation districts were asked to assist the Department of Environmental Protection with farm inspections.  These inspections would check farms for manure management and erosion and sedimentation control plans.
Local conservation district boards are faced with the decision whether or not to go into the program.
However, funding for their Chesapeake Bay Technician staff depends upon their willingness to inspect farms.
Some conservation districts are hesitant to sign on because it would change the district’s role from technical assistance to compliance.
Conservation districts have had meetings with the DEP in regards to the farm inspections conservation districts have been asked to conduct. This has been a step forward since many concerns the conservation districts have were addressed by DEP.
However, there are still some issues of concern with consistency and privacy for the farms that are inspected.
“Although many of the conservation districts’ concerns have already been adequately addressed by DEP, there are still two outstanding issues – the discrepancies between the Statement of Policy, the inspection form, and the contract, and privacy concerns when a district employee obtains information generated by federal entities,” said Thompson.
Another concern still unresolved related to a privacy issue with documentation obtained from a federal agency, such as U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Section 1619 of the Federal Privacy Act prohibits any entity from sharing information obtained from federal documentation, such as a conservation plan.
Before any information is obtained by the district employee and given to DEP, the farmer should sign an “Authorization for Release of Records” form as authorization to release the records.
Attempts to incorporate the federal release form into the DEP inspection form are ongoing with the goal of streamlining the process.
“How many of Pennsylvania’s conservation districts will take on farm inspections as part of their duties? Only time will tell,” said Thompson.
Funding Key To Success
The PACD testimony also highlighted the critical role funding plays in the installation of farm best management practices.
“Funding is the key to success for Best Management Practice (or BMP) installation. Without adequate state and federal funding, farmers cannot afford to install the BMP’s necessary to significantly reduce nutrients getting into our local waterways, and ultimately the Bay.
“PACD proposes a significant amount of public funding dedicated toward water quality improvement. This funding should be distributed at the local level with conservation districts being an integral part of the planning and implementation process.
“They know the area’s geology, the landowners, and the local government leaders to effectively and efficiently distribute the funding.”
Click Here to read the full testimony.
The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Citizens Advisory Council is a group of partners chosen by the Governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Mayor of Washington DC. This group provides advice on the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Bay watershed cleanup goals.
For more information on this and other issues affecting county conservation districts, visit the PA Association of Conservation Districts website.
For more information on Bay-related efforts, visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay webpage.
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