HD44 - The Study of Plasticulture and Related Water Quality Management Issues

Executive Summary:
As requested by the 1997 General Assembly, the Plasticulture Task Force, established pursuant to House Resolution No. 40, conducted a study to determine: (1) whether existing programs and policies are sufficient to ensure adequate water quality management when the practice of plasticulture is utilized; (2) whether additional research and development of best management practices relating to plasticulture should be undertaken by the Commonwealth; and (3) whether existing state programs are consistently applied and coordinated between agencies with regard to the practice of plasticulture.

To conduct this study, the task force reviewed existing programs and policies for water quality management, and reviewed the recommendations made by the two subcommittees -- Scientific Research and Conservation/Best Management Practices (BMPs) -- of the Eastern Shore Vegetable and Shellfish Growers Advisory Committee, established by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services to address the issues associated with runoff from plasticulture fields on the Eastern Shore. In addition, the task force considered proposals for future research and BMP development and implementation, and solicited public comment.


As a result of the study conducted by the Plasticulture Task Force, we report the following findings:

1. Based on the information and plasticulture research data available at this time, we find that existing statutory authorities appear to be sufficient to protect water quality when plasticulture is utilized. However, additional scientific research is needed to determine whether existing programs and policies, including incentive and other non-regulatory programs, need to be modified in order to provide sound science-based public policy.

2. Additional research is needed on the usage of pesticides in plasticulture, types of BMPs, the effectiveness of BMPs and agricultural practices in vegetable production plasticulture fields. Research is also needed to determine what is causing the high clam mortality rate found at some clam hatcheries on the Eastern Shore.

3. Agencies responsible for water quality management have been coordinating their activities regarding the plasticulture issue. Continued and improved coordination is needed and is addressed in the recommendations by the Plasticulture Task Force.

4. The Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is coordinating the development and installation of conservation/best management practices for vegetable fields under plasticulture on the Eastern Shore. In addition, the Eastern Shore SWCD has identified, and the producers have taken out of production, several acres of the more erodible farmland adjacent to streams.

5. Existing scientific research is continuing and some funding has been authorized for future research regarding pesticide usage on vegetable production plasticulture fields. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia Tech are engaged in scientific research which will provide data to further our understanding of the effects of plasticulture on water quality. Also, the Pesticide Control Board has authorized expenditures of up to $250,000 to support research involving plasticulture fields (pesticide usage and BMPs) and integrated pest management in schools.


Based on its findings, the Interagency Plasticulture Task Force submits the following recommendations for consideration by the Governor and the General Assembly:

1. The coordination by agencies with responsibility for water quality management related to plasticulture should be continued and improved through the formation of a group similar to the interagency task force established by H.R. 40. This group would work to ensure that state programs are consistently applied; evaluate the effectiveness of BMPs and conservation measures recommended to address the plasticulture issue; review and make recommendations for plasticulture research; and, determine, based on data from continuing and future scientific investigations, whether existing programs and policies, including incentives and other non-regulatory programs, need to be modified to address water quality management when plasticulture is utilized.

2. Vegetable growers utilizing plasticulture on the Eastern Shore should continue, in coordination with the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District, the implementation of BMPs in their operations.

3. The Department of Environmental Quality, in cooperation with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, should implement a water quality monitoring and testing program to evaluate the impact of plasticulture activities on the Eastern Shore. The General Assembly should consider appropriating sufficient funding for the monitoring and testing program.

4. The General Assembly should consider funding the soil scientist position at the Eastern Shore Agriculture Experiment Station to study plasticulture-related soil issues. Soils research and knowledge is essential in water quality and vegetable production issues.

5. The General Assembly should consider additional funding for the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences for research on clam aquaculture.