Market Based Approaches to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff

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Market Based Approaches to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff

The Maryland Sea Grant, a research program out of the University of Maryland, publishes a magazine, Chesapeake Quarterly, on environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay region. In April they featured a story on water quality trading in the Chesapeake watershed. Water quality trading can take place between farmers and cities, where farmers plant cover crops and adopt other practices to reduce nitrogen runoff, and in return can receive financial grants from local wastewater treatment plants, for example. So far, water quality trading has not been very successful in the area, in terms of participation. The article, “Trading Away Toward a Cleaner Bay,” examines why this is the case, and looks at other market based approaches to limit nitrogen runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

A Way to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff from Farms in the Chesapeake Watershed?

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A Way to Reduce Nitrogen Runoff from Farms in the Chesapeake Watershed?

The Bay Journal published an interesting article this week, looking at a way to reduce nitrogen from Maryland farms, using a bioreactor to filter runoff. The method has been used in the Midwest, and is currently being tested in the Chesapeake region.

More on 2014 Farm Bill

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Last week I posted a link to the 2014 Farm Bill, as passed by the House of Representatives. Yesterday, the bill was passed by the Senate. The 2014 Farm Bill makes several changes, including cuts in subsidies for farmers, cuts to federal food stamps, and major changes to funding for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). Congress created the CBWI five years under the previous Farm Bill to fund conservation initiatives for farmers and landowners in the Chesapeake watershed. Funding allows landowners to work with the Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to set up stream buffers, restore wetlands, and implement other conservation practices. These measures reduce nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff to the Bay, which is the number one problem facing the Chesapeake.

The bill passed yesterday will create a Regional Conservation Partnership Program, of which the CBWI will be a part. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program lumps together four conservation programs, including the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regional programs with the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. The Chesapeake Bay Program released a document breaking down the funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which can be found here: (Chesapeake Bay Program).

Essentially, the new partnership program will force projects within the program to compete with one another for funding. As the Chesapeake Bay Program states, funding is awarded based on a “competitive, merit-based process.” But what criteria are used to merit funding and what happens to the programs that do not receive federal grants?

A press release from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine paints the new Farm Bill as a positive change for Virginia farmers and conservation of the Chesapeake. He claims the bill “ensures robust support for Chesapeake Bay restoration…” (Kaine Press Release).

A story from the Allegheny Front, a radio program from Pittsburgh, PA, gives a different side. Their January 31 story reports that the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will cut billions of dollars to conservation projects, and reduce the number of acres included in these projects. More specific to the Chesapeake watershed, competition could cause projects in the Bay area to lose out to other regions. A loss of money will mean fewer farmers and landowners will have the funds or the incentive to implement conservation practices on their lands, and the heath of the Bay will suffer. (Allegheny Front).

EPA Awards Grants to Research Solutions to Nutrient Pollution

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EPA Awards Grants to Research Solutions to Nutrient Pollution

Today the EPA announced that it would be granting $9 million to 3 universities and the Water Environment Research Foundation to research solutions to nutrient pollution. Stormwater runoff, which has been in the news frequently in the past few weeks (at least in the Chesapeake Bay watershed regions) will be a major focus. One of the schools awarded funds is Pennsylvania State University. Their research will concentrate on Pennsylvania waters and the Chesapeake basin.

Increased Nitrogen Pollution from Maryland Sewage Treatment Plants

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Earlier this week I shared an article on Maryland and its lax regulations on stormwater runoff, affecting water quality in the Chesapeake. According to another article today in B’More Green (an environmental blog associated with The Baltimore Sun), Maryland has also been negligent in monitoring nitrogen pollution from its sewage treatment plants. In 2012, Maryland sewage treatment plants had a marked rise in nitrogen discharge, and many facilities violated their permits. Reasons for this significant rise in nitrogen discharge is still unclear. The article can be found here: (,0,4308987.story)

What’s Your Nitrogen Footprint?

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In my undergrad classes I had to do several personal carbon footprint calculations (found on the web by organizations such as the Nature Conservancy or the EPA). The footprint models were generally eye-opening in showing how much energy I consumed through daily practices, yet questions were often broad and inexact. Despite this critique I find the calculators a useful tool in allowing an individual or family to look at their activities and find where they can cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions. For these reasons I was excited to find a nitrogen calculator from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that provided an estimate, in pounds, of how much my family and I contribute to nitrogen emissions in the Bay watershed.

CBF estimates that the average household should have a nitrogen footprint of, at most, 9.1 pounds. My household estimate was double that amount, and maybe even higher than the 20.1 pounds estimated due to values that were underrepresented in the calculator. Our property has a conventional sewer system which contributed a lot to our nitrogen output. Maybe we could look at ways to improve our system, or install other best management practices (rain gardens, rain barrels, etc) to reduce our nitrogen footprint.

Nitrogen pollution is a major issue in the Chesapeake Bay. In my opinion, not much attention is given to household contribution to this issue. I think the calculator is a good tool in raising awareness and allowing individuals and families a jumping off point for ideas on how to reduce their footprint.

The calculator can be found at the following link: