In the proper concentrations, nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorous are part of a healthy aquatic ecosystem. They nourish the growth of plants and algae, which provide food and habitat for fish and other organisms. But when levels of these nutrients exceed certain thresholds, they can become hazardous pollutants that harm our lakes, rivers and coastal waters. The agricultural industry can be a major contributor to nutrient pollution because of animal waste and a reliance on fertilizers. This has been the case for many years with the Chesapeake Bay watershed in West Virginia. Cattle and poultry operations in the state’s Eastern Panhandle (and a small portion of one southern county) have played a part in compromising the watershed, leading to a need for better nutrient management.
In 2010, the West Virginia Conservation Agency (WVCA) and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) embarked on a plan to write and/or update nutrient management plans for 90,000 acres in the eight-county Chesapeake Bay drainage region. Today, that goal has been met and West Virginia is leading the way in reducing pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. On May 10, 2017 it was officially determined that West Virginia had met the 90,000 acre goal. The state expects to go well beyond this goal in future years. “This has been a huge collaborative effort between the WVCA and the department of agriculture. Protecting this watershed is vital to West Virginia and our surrounding states,” WVCA Executive Director Brian Farkas said. “We are very proud of all the hard work helped us reach this goal.”
A cleaner, more vibrant Chesapeake Bay is of benefit to everyone. Tens of thousands of people work in fishing and ancillary industries in the Bay region, and millions of tourists visit the Bay and surrounding areas each year. Tens of thousands of jobs depend on the Bay being a clean and safe recreation destination. In 2005, a fishkill on the Shenandoah River resulted in $700,000 lost in the local economy. Thousands of jobs are also created through the implementation of conservation practices on farms in the Bay watershed, while clean waterways are linked to higher property values. While the ultimate goal is a cleaner Bay, West Virginia is also reaping the benefits of nutrient management right at home through a more sustainable agricultural industry, improved soil health, and cleaner local waterways for its residents and tourists
“When I took over operations at the farm, I wasn’t sure exactly where the nutrient levels were at. Through the nutrient management plan I found that we only needed to apply potassium and nitrogen, but not phosphorous,” said Dr. Isaiah Smith, a veterinarian and a sixth-generation cattle farmer in Pendleton County. “We have seen a big change as far as productivity. When you apply lime and fertilize at the correct rate you see a big change. We are also saving money by not applying nutrients that we don’t need.”