I took a canoe trip on the upper James River this past summer with a friend. The weather was great. We had decent luck fishing, and I set my personal record, eating six hot dogs in 24 hours. In short, it was awesome. But two other things stuck out in my mind: 1) the number of cows we saw either out in the middle of the river or along the bank and 2) how muddy the James became downstream of its confluence with Catawba Creek after a not-so-heavy, localized rainstorm.
I mention all this because, for the first time in a long time, the General Assembly has a real opportunity to address these issues and make headway on what agriculture contributes to degraded water quality.
Starting today, House Bill 1422 and Senate Bill 704 will be taken up in House and Senate Committees. As our friends in the James River Association explain: HB 1422/SB 704 sets a backstop deadline for fencing cattle from perennial streams and for implementing Nutrient Management Plans on cropland. Together, stream fencing and NMP implementation as prescribed in these two bills would substantially reduce polluted runoff from reaching our waterways. These practices are also two of the most cost-effective approaches to improving water quality and are critical to meeting our Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals on time. Nutrient management plans benefit producers by minimizing fertilizer costs and maximizing yields while cattle fencing improves herd health by ensuring cleaner water and reducing exposure to diseases like mastitis.
In addition, the two bills, 1) Encourage farmers to sign up for funding through the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share program by 2025. Farmers are protected from the backstop deadline if they have signed up for but have not yet received funding. 2) Include flexible options for cattle fencing practices, including temporary and portable fencing and designated stream crossings. 3) Include a review process that will prevent the deadline from going into effect if Virginia meets its Bay Cleanup goals for these two practices through voluntary means by 2025.
The JRA considers these bills a huge step toward greater water quality in the entire James River watershed. If you feel strongly, like we do, about this issue, please consider contacting one of the representatives on the committees. Click here to do just that. It’s super easy and super important.