Pollution meeting planned

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The federal government is putting Virginia waters on a strict pollution diet.

A statewide discussion on proposed new agricultural regulations designed to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay will be held Thursday via the Internet. Some local farmers are concerned the new regulations will curtail their operations.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment throughout the watershed. The new regulations would come with teeth, unlike previous reduction efforts that were simply on a volunteer basis.

The new regulations likely would saddle farmers with more stringent regulations and more paperwork, said Glenn Slade, a Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent in Surry.

“It will be a lot more strict as far as nutrients and fertilizer, and animal feeding operations,” he said. “I don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out yet. It’s hard to figure out exactly what the rules are going to say.”

Slade said local farmers are apprehensive about the new rules and feel they are getting blamed for the majority of the pollution without being given credit for their efforts.

“Years ago, we plowed the land every year,” Slade said. “When you do that, you cause a lot of erosion problems.”

Many farmers have voluntarily stopped tilling the ground as frequently, Slade said.

“I don’t think they get credit for doing a lot of that,” he said. “Farmers have been instituting a lot of new practices.”

The state plans to develop two-year milestones for levels of various pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and other local waters. The EPA will impose consequences if no progress is made, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality website.

The Nansemond River and its tributaries, which fall into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, have struggled with pollution for years. Portions of the river have been closed to swimming and shellfish harvesting for almost 15 years. A public meeting held in Suffolk in May brought concerns from local watermen that the river’s pollution reduction plan did not come with incentives for meeting pollution reduction goals.

A major problem in the fight against Nansemond River pollution is pinpointing the exact source of the river’s bacteria, officials said at that meeting. Possible causes include wildlife, pet and livestock waste; human waste from failing sewer or septic systems; and agricultural runoff.

On Thursday, the EPA meetings will be held online from 1 to 3 p.m. and at the Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel, 700 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton. To register for the online meeting, visit www.gotomeeting.com/register/689259867.