Four Penn State water-quality projects honored by USDA

University Park, Pa. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Water Program has selected four clean-water projects initiated by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences as Regional Projects of Excellence for the mid-Atlantic region.

Administered by Penn State Extension, the selected projects were showcased at the recent 2011 Land Grant/Sea Grant National Water Conference in Washington, D.C. The programs recognized are:

--Regional Master Well Owner Network, conducted by Bryan Swistock, Penn State Extension water resources specialist. The Master Well Owner Network is an extension program first initiated in Pennsylvania in 2003 and subsequently expanded throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Volunteers -- and in some states, extension educators and other professionals -- complete a day-long training workshop to learn how to maintain private water systems and to protect or improve water quality. Then, they share this information with others in their communities.

"More than 5.5 million households in the mid-Atlantic region rely on private water supplies such as wells, springs and cisterns for their drinking water," said Swistock. "Groundwater contamination is a common concern for these residents."

He noted that in Pennsylvania since 2004, the Master Well Owner Network has trained 500 volunteers, who have made more than 25,000 educational contacts. "Better than three out of four Master Well Owners Network contacts have taken action to improve their water supplies," he said.

--Dairy Feed Management Planner's Certification Program, overseen by Virginia Ishler, extension nutrient management specialist in dairy and animal science.

This program began in 2007 when Penn State scientists adapted the national feed-management program to the needs of dairy consultants in the Chesapeake Basin. The program certifies consultants in precision-feed management, a practice that reduces nutrient loads in animal wastes by minimizing phosphorus and nitrogen content in the feed.

"Certified consultants in feed management assist dairy producers in improving herd nutrition
and meeting new conservation requirements," said Ishler. "The current regulatory and economic situation requires cost-effective measures to control nutrient pollution."

Precision feed management slowly is being implemented, she noted, and it has been accepted as a critical practice to help reduce nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay region.

--Regional Cropland Nutrient Budgets, initiated by Doug Beegle, Distinguished Professor of Agronomy, and the late Les Lanyon, who was a professor of soil science and management. Lanyon, collaborating with Beegle, developed a phosphorus budget that in 2003 led to an online regional nutrient budget for Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

"That budget used livestock numbers, fertilizer sales and crop acreages to determine county-level phosphorus supply and crop-demand estimates, primarily for Census of Agriculture years 1987, 1992, 1997 and 2002," said Beegle. "In 2008 the budget was updated to include nitrogen, and it now incorporates 2007 Census of Agriculture data."

A nutrient budget can be used to determine the indicated areas of nutrient imbalance where the nutrients applied to cropland in the form of manure and fertilizer exceed the nutrients removed in crop harvests, Beegle explained.

"The results indicate the potential for nutrients in the soil to be lost to the environment and help to target areas and practices where efforts to minimize the impact of nutrients can be focused," he said. "In the Chesapeake Bay, the phosphorus budget led to a new public focus on regional nutrient imbalances."

--Educational Efforts on Water Quality Credit Trading Policies, conducted by Charles Abdalla, professor of agricultural and environmental economics, and Kristen Saacke Blunk, senior extension associate and director of the Agriculture and Environment Center.

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began promoting nutrient-trading programs as one way to address water-quality impairments, programs around the region have started to evaluate how such programs could reduce pollution.

"While states in the mid-Atlantic region sought to advance water quality and nutrient trading, many stakeholders did not fully understand water-quality credit-trading programs and their inherent opportunities and obstacles," said Abdalla.

"Recognizing the need to educate citizens, policy-makers and agricultural, environmental, and municipal interest groups, we began providing unbiased, science-based information through publications, workshops and professional guidance."

The effort that helped launch this regional initiative was the extension publication "A Primer on Water Quality Credit Trading in the Mid-Atlantic Region," a resource that explained trading and its potential benefits and consequences, and fostered development of educational materials on the mid-Atlantic states' water-quality and nutrient-trading policies.
 

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Last Updated May 20, 2011