Excessive nutrient loads, agriculture operations and failing septic systems have caused elevated bacteria levels in the Little Assawoman Bay watershed. The watershed is defined as the Assawoman Canal to the confluence of the Assawoman Bay. In 1996, the state of Delaware placed the 3 square mile Little Assawoman Bay watershed on its 303(d) list for violating bacterial indicator water quality standards. The watershed did not support recreational uses because of the bacterial impairment. The State of Delaware developed total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for bacteria in 2004 to address the entire Inland Bay watershed, which includes the Little Assawoman Bay watershed. Targeted education and poultry operation best management practices (BMPs) implementation were initiated to help the watershed meet state water quality standards for bacteria. In 2006, the Little Assawoman Bay was delisted from the 303(d) as the quality standards for bacteria were met.
The Little Assawoman Bay watershed drains a mixed agriculture and resort community setting to a confluence with the Inland Bays in coastal lower Delaware. The Little Assawoman Bay watershed is an agricultural dominated watershed with no influencing point sources. The area has a high concentration of poultry growing operations, but is experiencing rapid conversion toward urban uses. Excessive impacts from agriculture and failing septic systems heavily influence the 3 square mile drainage. Water quality monitoring data within the watershed showed elevated counts that routinely exceeded state water quality standards for bacteria. As a result, Delaware placed the Little Assawoman Bay on its 303(d) list for frequent bacteria violations. In 2004, the State of Delaware developed total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for bacteria for the entire Inland Bay Watershed, which includes and addresses the Little Assawoman Bay watershed. However, water quality standards were not met until 2006.
Conceptually initiated in 2001, the Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) joined in a collaborative effort with Delmarva’s major poultry integrators (Perdue Farms, Mountaire Farms, and Allen’s Family Foods), the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission, the Delaware Nonpoint Source Program, and the Sussex Conservation District to develop the Little Assawoman Bay as a “model watershed” area. The project, titled the Poultry Integrators’ Nutrient Effort or PINE, sought to accelerate compliance and certification programs mandated by Delaware’s Nutrient Management Law and implement fully all poultry operation associated BMPs. This comprehensive approach was developed to reduce nonpoint source pollution in the Little Assawoman Bay watershed. To implement the PINE goals, a Watershed Coordinator was hired by the Center for the Inland Bays with the specific responsibility of working with poultry growers operating within the Little Assawoman Bay watershed.
The Little Assawoman Bay has one of the highest concentrations of poultry growers in the state, based on land area there are 27 active poultry operations consisting of 77 functioning poultry houses and one swine operation producing 1,500 hogs per year. Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) addressed in the watershed include:
• Dead Bird Disposal
• Heavy Use Area Protection (HUAP)
• Manure Conveyors
• Manure Storage Structures
• Nutrient Management Planning
• Cover Crops
• Manure Relocation and Alternative Use
• Wood Chip Buffers
• Vegetative Environmental Buffers
An example of BMP implementation occurring in the Little Assawoman Bay watershed can be found on the poultry farm of Dan and Iris Moore, a poultry grower with Perdue Farms. This farm was selected due to its close proximity to wetlands and tributaries of the Little Assawoman Bay and the new 1000 plus home site Americana Bayside development. The Moore farm operates two tunnel ventilated poultry houses. BMPs existing of the Moore farm prior to targeted PINE efforts included a dead bird composter and manure storage structure. In addition, the Moore’s were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program with the Sussex Conservation District (SCD) and have 54 acres of early succession pine and hardwood mix. After an initial PINE program consultation with the Little Assawoman Bay Watershed Coordinator, plans were drawn up to install concrete pads on the ends of the houses for easy manure cleanup, vegetative buffers in front of tunnel fans to reduce the dust plume, an irrigated tree buffer along the property line adjacent to the new development, removal of two old poultry houses along the road, installation of a new truck route into and out of the farm, and a possible shallow wetland. Americana Bayside agreed to pay for the removal of the two houses, installation of the irrigated, vegetated buffer, and installation of the new truck route.
Monitoring data from the State of Delaware show that the efforts of the agricultural community resulted in a measurable reduction in bacteria levels in the Little Assawoman Bay. By the end of the monitoring assessment in 2006, data from each of the measured monitoring stations showed that the water was meeting water quality standards for bacteria (Delaware’s water quality standard for bacteria allows for a geometric mean of 35 and requires there are at least 10 samples in the assessment period extending an average of 5 years). Monitoring will continue at all Little Assawoman Bay four stations to ensure that standards are maintained.
Partners and Funding
The PINE project was a partnership between the Center for the Inland Bays, University of Delaware, Sussex County Conservations District, Delmarva’s major poultry integrators (Perdue Farms, Mountaire Farms, and Allen’s Family Foods), and the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission.
The project used just over $100,000 in federal 319 funds to pay for the salary of a Watershed Coordinator focusing strictly in the Little Assawoman Bay watershed. Additional funding was provided through the USDA EQIP and CREP programs, State of Delaware Conservation Cost Share program, and Americana Bayside Development Corporation. Due to the nature of the funding and enrollment procedures, much of the funding involvement is immeasurable.