RD100 - Preliminary Report of the Chapters 735 and 736 (2023) Stakeholder Advisory Group

Executive Summary:

Section 62.1-44.119:2 of the Code of Virginia directs the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources to convene a stakeholder advisory group (Group) that reviews “annual progress and make recommendations towards the implementation of the Commonwealth’s agricultural commitments" in the Phase III Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). The second enactment clause of Chapters 735 and 736 of the 2023 Acts of Assembly requires the stakeholder advisory group to submit a preliminary report.

Overview of meetings held by the Group

The Group met twice this fall – September 28 and October 24. The meetings focused on providing information regarding the Commonwealth’s agricultural commitments in the WIP and the progress the Commonwealth has made towards achieving those commitments; current incentives available to agricultural producers; data that is currently reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through milestones; and recommended revisions for the next series of two-year agriculture-related programmatic and numeric milestones.

Future work of the Group

Chapters 735 and 736 establish certain deliverables for the Group in addition to reviewing the annual progress made towards achieving the agricultural commitments and providing recommendations about how those commitments might be achieved. The Group is tasked with developing a process to assist producers in developing a nutrient management plan pursuant to § 62.1-44.121 as well as developing a plan to increase the utilization of stream exclusion practices in the areas of the Commonwealth that drain to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Group must also develop a timeline for achieving certain metrics that will ensure the Commonwealth meets its agricultural commitments. The Group will focus on the creation of these deliverables over the next six to eight months.

At the second meeting, the Group discussed the importance of obtaining information related to the best management practices agricultural producers voluntarily implement and install without any financial assistance from state or federal sources. The Commonwealth has previously attempted to gain this information through a survey, and while the data obtained made important contributions to annual reporting, the level of survey participation was not as high as was hoped. The use of technology, including satellite imagery, to obtain these voluntarily installed and implemented practices will be further examined and discussed with the Group, partners, and other stakeholders such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Trying new and varied approaches to reach producers regarding these voluntarily implemented and installed practices will be critical to the Commonwealth’s ongoing success.

Future reports from the Group

Chapters 735 and 736 require the first annual report from the Group to be submitted by July 1, 2024. That report must include the timeline and specific metrics agreed to by the Group. Additional future reports will be provided on a schedule developed by the Group. The annual reports must include:  “the number of practices completed by river basin in the prior program year and practices needed to complete the agriculture sector nutrient load reductions, including sediment reductions by river basin, identification of priority regions, the number of operators affected within each region, initiatives to enhance progress, an accounting of funding received toward the agricultural commitments, shortfalls remaining, and the consequences of such funding shortfalls. Such progress reports shall also include specific percentages relating to nutrient management plan and stream exclusion adoption compared to the requirements of the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan."