Partners Awarded $7.4 Million to Restore Streams on Agricultural Lands

Partners Awarded $7.4 Million to Restore Streams on Agricultural Lands

Photo credit: Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program
For Immediate Release
April 26, 2021

Countywide Water Quality Partnership Awarded $7.4 Million to Restore Streams on Agricultural Lands in Lancaster County

Lancaster Clean Water Partners proposal “Common Agenda for Clean Waters” outlines method to restore 350 miles of impaired streams in Lancaster by 2030.

Lancaster, PA – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced Monday afternoon that the Lancaster Clean Water Partners (Partners) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) proposal was selected to receive $7.4 million to implement best management practices on agricultural lands, resulting in restored and healthy streams. This is significant for the county, not only in terms of the funding available, but also because the uniquely collaborative proposal from nine local groups is designed to encourage farmers to work with neighbors to make improvements on their own farm that also restores and renews the stream they share.

“On behalf of the Lancaster Clean Water Partners, the Conservation Foundation of Lancaster County, and all our dedicated partner organizations, we thank NRCS for awarding these crucial funds to support Lancaster’s agricultural community,” says Allyson Gibson, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Programs at the Partners. “We’re eager to take action, using this funding opportunity to support landowners’ needs and ultimately reach our common goal of clean and clear water by 2040. Our efforts will improve public health, economic development, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and water quality for not only Lancastrians, but also our neighbors downstream.”

“Our farmers are dedicated to conservation and water quality practices,” continues Gibson. “However, it can be challenging for them to absorb the cost and navigate the approval processes on their own. We will be able to bring the funding and technical service needed for them to make a significant impact on their farm and the streams that run through.”

More than half of Lancaster County’s 1,400 miles of streams are considered impaired, meaning that pollution and habitat loss have hindered their use for drinking water supply, fish, recreation, or the aquatic life that calls the waterways home. The proposal submitted by the Partners in coordination with the Conservation Foundation of Lancaster County, outlines a rapid stream delisting strategy, which supports landowners working to restore 350 miles of impaired streams. With over 5,000 farms in Lancaster county, these RCPP funds are essential to help local farmers implement targeted and specific projects to support their bottom line and improve water quality.

The rapid stream delisting strategy was created in partnership with the Chesapeake Conservancy to more efficiently and effectively address water quality issues. It is a simple concept – concentrate conservation implementation on contiguous stretches of impaired streams at the same time to create the conditions for stream health to return. Once restored, nutrient and sediment pollution levels will have decreased and habitat increased enough for critter and fish populations to live and thrive in the stream again, welcoming recreational opportunities and drinking water safety.

“With a focus on a community-wide delisting efforts rather than regulatory compliance alone, we’re emphasizing how important conservation is to the quality of life and health of people in Lancaster, including the friends, families, and neighbors of participating farmers,” says John Cox, Senior Advisor at the Partners. “This approach builds and expands on a local culture of stewardship and engages farmers in conservation activities that have a direct and tangible benefit on their immediate communities. The best management practices implemented with these funds will improve operations, increase profitability, and conserve soils – all things that will keep farms healthy, operational, and profitable for generations.”

The small stream segments selected for the delisting strategy include the surrounding land that drains into those streams, also known as catchments. They were chosen where previous momentum and potential landowner interest together with a water quality status that is relatively close to healthy will accelerate restoration and resulting water quality improvements. Nineteen catchments were selected from several partner workshops within the Chiques, Conestoga, Pequea and Octoraro watersheds. Partner organizations will act as leads in each catchment to coordinate the outreach efforts and implementation of best management practices. 

“This award is a huge step forward and significant for Lancaster County,” says Lisa Riggs, Chair of the Partners’ Steering Committee and President of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County. “It recognizes the incredible lift this community is focused on to clean up our local waterways. It strengthens our commitment to doing this work collaboratively and it underscores the reality that public-private partnerships are critical.”

The Partners brings together a diverse group of organizations including nonprofits, government agencies, and businesses who have a passion for collaborating with farmers to achieve water quality goals and farm economic sustainability, and a commitment to working to achieve a shared vision of clean and clear local water by 2040. Many partner organizations are engaged in leading this effort, including TeamAg, Inc., Red Barn Consulting, Lancaster Farmland Trust, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Stroud Water Research Center, Lancaster County Conservation District, Chesapeake Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Sustainable Chesapeake. 

Through RCPP, conservation partners like the Partners work in collaboration with NRCS to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners throughout the nation to implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats and increase climate resilience. 

These projects offer impactful and measurable outcomes. Throughout its history, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands.

Media Contact: Emily Smedley, esmedley@lancastercleanwaterpartners.com 

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