Development challenges Inland Bays water quality progress
The 35 square miles of Delaware's Inland Bays make up a treasure all of us want to see thrive. As a new State of the Bays report from the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays documents, there are encouraging signs that water quality in the bays is improving, and the report shows people from many corners successfully are reducing nutrient inputs in the bays' watershed.
Still, the report includes two warnings that we should heed. It notes more than 10 percent of the Inland Bays watershed now is covered with impervious surfaces, like roadways, roofs, and parking lots, a threshold past which there are "detrimental impacts to water quality" from storm runoff, according to the report. And it supports the use of government incentives for agricultural nutrient management practices, while at the same time documenting the progress farmers have made in adopting best practices like planting cover crops, making alternative use of chicken litter, and building sheds to cover manure piles and composters.
In fact, the report shows that since 2005 we have achieved 66 percent of the watershed goal for building manure storage structures and composters.
Farmers often describe themselves not as environmental activists but as "active environmentalists." After all, Delmarva's farm families run some of the most regulated farms in the country. This regulation is accepted by Delmarva's chicken farmers and crop farmers alike, who have made significant advancements with measurable improvements in farming practices to protect water supplies.
It's why, in Maryland, Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. and other groups are urging the state to release cost-share grants for nutrient management practices that are lodged in a budget battle. And it's why we applaud Delaware and Maryland alike for state programs that give farmers cost assistance to help them transport nutrients, including chicken manure, out of watersheds that are trying to meet water-quality goals.
Recently, environmental activists flatly opposed to the construction of new chicken farms have argued the government subsidies that help all farms manage their nutrients are somehow unfair or undeserved. But the concept of helping farmers, who play a vital role in feeding America, fund responsible environmental practices ought not to be controversial.
Keep in mind tax credits for buying hybrid cars or installing solar panels; they serve the same goal.
The agricultural community has cautioned, for years, that losing farmland to development is a resource-conservation setback. Environmentalists who study water quality in estuaries know that's true, too. The CIB report notes that "noticeable degradation to the water quality of estuaries begins when their watershed exceeds 10 percent imperviousness." The Inland Bays watershed is now 10.4 percent covered by impervious surfaces. And as the Bay Journal noted in November, stormwater runoff is the fastest-growing source of pollution in the adjacent Chesapeake Bay watershed.
An estimated $4 million a year would be needed for the mostly voluntary agricultural practices to reach goals set in the Inland Bays' pollution control strategy, according to the CIB report. Farmers, including chicken growers, strive every day to be good stewards of the land, recognizing that protecting groundwater and our other natural resources is a journey of continuous improvement and learning – and that we're all in this together.
Bill Satterfield is executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.