Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Expanding REAP Farm Conservation Tax Credit Suggested To Bring REAL Private Capital to Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Effort

The PA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Phase 3 Implementation Planning Steering Committee Monday heard from panelists on the changes they would like to see come out of the process and among the suggestions was expanding the REAP Farm Conservation Tax Credit Program to bring real private capital to the Bay cleanup effort.
Also suggested was making it much easier for communities to meet their MS4 Stormwater pollution reductions by allowing them to buy inexpensive, cost-effective on-farm conservation practices in their local watersheds like stream fencing and forested buffers.
Panel Discussion
Felicia Dell, Director of the York County Planning Commission, Jennifer Reed-Harry, Vice President of PennAg Industries Association and John Brosious, Deputy Executive Director of the PA Municipal Authorities Association presented their thoughts on what they would like to see come out of the Phase 3 Planning Process.
Felicia Dell said in York County they have involved local governments as key partners in an innovative Integrated Water Resources Plan that adopts a regional approach to complying not only with the MS4 Stormwater requirements, but the Chesapeake Bay and local TMDL impaired stream nutrient and sediment reductions.
Dell said municipalities included in the county’s regional approach would like to see more prioritization and targeting of resources.  They also support watershed-wide solutions to stormwater issues, instead of solutions limited to their own MS4 communities.
Dell also said municipalities recommended state grant programs give more points for projects that have stormwater benefits in addition paying for recreation or other projects.
Jennifer Reed-Harry, PennAg Industries Association, noted the farm inspections being done by county conservation districts are showing more compliance with farm conservation plans than many thought.  
At the same time, she acknowledged the agriculture community has not done a good enough job in documenting the nutrient and sediment reductions achieved by these plans.
Among her recommendations were an expansion of the public-private partnership embodied in the Resource Enhancement and Protection Farm Conservation Tax Credit Program to bring more and real private capital to Bay cleanup program.
In response to a question from DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, she said farmers need to be approach with a view toward return on investment.  How will the conservation practices benefit their operations and their bottom lines?  And they do.
John Brosious, PA Municipal Authorities Association, said wastewater plants met the initial nitrogen and phosphorus reduction numbers three years early and are now on the verge of meeting their 2025 phosphorus reduction.
Brosious recommended reviving a Nutrient Credit Trading workgroup to develop the changes needed to really make the trading program work.
He noted wastewater plants do a lot of trades among themselves because the credits can be easily verified, but there have not been many trades between nonpoint (farm) and point sources (wastewater plants).
DEP said a review of the trading program is part of the Phase 3 Planning Process.
Brosious said there should be more options for MS4 Stormwater Program communities to comply with the requirements, like allowing communities to pay for cost-effective and inexpensive on-farm conservation practices we know work like streambank fencing and forest buffers in other parts of their watersheds.
Dell also supported the concept.
Most Cost-Effective BMPs
Matt Johnston, University Of Maryland Chesapeake Bay Program Nonpoint Source Data Analyst, gave a presentation on tools now available to make better estimates of the costs and benefits-- potential pounds of nutrient and sediment reduction-- of adopting relatively simple on-farm conservation practices.
Johnston said the top 10 most cost effective and low-tech on-farm best management practices per pound of nitrogen reduced were-- alternative crops, barnyard runoff control, water quality conservation plans, water control structures, stream access controls for cattle with fenced and grassed buffer, narrow grass stream buffer, forested buffer, agricultural grass buffers and loafing lot management.
[Note: These same practices also have significant sediment runoff reduction benefits as well.  Buffer plantings only get more effective over time as grasses, shrubs and trees grow.]
Revised Planning Schedule
Nicki Kasi, Manager of DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Program, presented a revised briefing schedule for Steering Committee members--
-- Midpoint EPA Assessment is expected to yield specifics of any added reductions in nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment as a result of the Conowingo Dam not trapping sediment and factors increasing reductions as a result of growth and climate change;
-- BMP Effectiveness: More information will be available from monitoring on the effectiveness of best management practices;
-- Public Input: DEP and the workgroups will be developing additional input tools to provide more opportunity for public involvement in the workgroup and Phase 3 planning process; and
-- Summary of Kickoff Event Recommendations: DEP will present the comments and suggestions from the June Planning Process Kickoff Event and its associated comment period.
-- Progress Status Report: What measures have worked to achieve reductions, what investments have been made so far and where, current, up-to-date numbers of reductions by sectors and where Pennsylvania is coming up short; and
-- Midpoint Assessment Update: Official EPA Chesapeake Bay Program reduction targets.
Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Steering Committee will be August 24.
Materials associated with this meeting will be posted on the WIP Steering Committee webpage.
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