RD353 - Report of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation: An Examination of the Needs and Potential Incentives to Encourage Implementation of Resource Management Plans

Executive Summary:
The Resource Management Plan (RMP) Program is a key mechanism by which the Commonwealth strives to meet its water quality goals. The Program is relatively new, with only three years of active implementation; however, more than 92,000 acres throughout the Commonwealth are currently included in 388 RMPs. These achievements far exceed the goal of having RMPs developed for 10,000 agricultural acres established in the Commonwealth's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. Due in part to these Chesapeake Bay specific water quality goals, marketing activities and funding for the RMP Program have been focused on the Chesapeake Bay watershed; there is now increased interest in developing RMPs throughout other regions of the state.

The RMP Program has been successful in encouraging the development of RMPs, primarily through utilizing financial incentives. Federal grant funds and limited Water Quality Improvement Funds have allowed the Department to contract with private sector RMP plan developers for RMP development. The vast majority of RMPs have been developed under these contracts. Additionally, the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board (Board) has approved cost-share funding incentives related to RMP development (RMP-1) and RMP implementation and certification (RMP-2). While there are a significant number of RMPs developed, there are only ten certified RMPs, totaling 2,335 acres. In order for the RMP to be certified, all required BMPs must be fully implemented. This relatively low number of certified plans was the primary focus of the Stakeholder Advisory Group.

In its discussion over three meetings, the Stakeholder Advisory Group (Group) recognized:

1. The linkage between this effort and the Stakeholder Advisory Group established in Item 364 R of the 2017 Appropriations Act that was tasked with evaluating methods to stabilize the funding for agricultural best management practices. Adequate and stable funding for agricultural best management practices is critical to the success of the RMP Program.

2. Increased rates of both RMP plan development and RMP plan certification will continue to increase the workload for Districts and additional funding support for RMP associated workload should be secured.

The Group also proposed several recommendations to encourage the implementation of RMPs.

Recommendation 1: The Group should continue to meet periodically to continue discussions and exchange ideas related to the implementation of RMPs.

Recommendation 2: A communications plan should be developed and should focus on both educational and marketing opportunities. A combined approach by all stakeholders and partners could dramatically increase the number of RMPs that achieve certification and increase the number of RMPs in the southern and western areas of the Commonwealth. Additionally, a coordinated effort will ensure marketing materials and information provided are accurate, complete, helpful, and relevant.

Recommendation 3: The Group recommends the Board and the Department review and examine several financial incentives that are currently offered through the Virginia Agriculture Cost-Share Program (VACS) to encourage RMP implementation. Offering additional funding support to Districts for verification and certification activities was also suggested.

Recommendation 4: The Board and the Department should review the current program requirements for potential programmatic efficiencies. Clarification regarding the roles of the plan developer, the Districts, and the Department may also be helpful in streamlining the verification and certification process. Providing additional guidance regarding the prioritizing of BMPs in an RMP when Districts review applications for VACS funding could also be beneficial.