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State designates $600K for Muddy Creek initiative
Muddy Creek may be muddy, but with the help of more than a half million in state funding, it should become significantly less polluted.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday announced that $98.3 million in grant money from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST) will go toward twelve projects across twelve counties. About $600,000 will go toward measures to protect the 17-mile York County Creek from agricultural runoff.
The funds will be used to construct a new manure storage facility for a dairy farm in Peach Bottom that has limited storage space for its fertilizer, and it will also eliminate livestock access to the creek — which will ultimately stop the manure runoff that is contaminating the creek, officials say.
"It's an effort to reduce the sediment and nitrogen pollutants to Muddy Creek, which has become impaired from agriculture runoff," said PennVEST's regional project specialist Tess Schlupp, noting that water from the creek flows into the Susquehanna River and then into the Chesapeake Bay. "At the end of the day, this project is also an effort to reduce the erosion and pollution of the bay as well."
Runoff: Animal waste and fertilizer are high in nitrogen, which is a key protein and nutrient for crop growth. It is also extremely detrimental to waterways. Animal waste that moves from smaller waterways into the Chesapeake, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is the single largest source of bay pollution.
"This farm has been having water quality challenges and compliance issues, and we have been working with them and got them ready to apply for the PennVEST program, which at the end of the day allocated these funds to this one farm for best management conservation practices," said Corey Grove with Team Ag, an agricultural and environmental consulting firm. "Now, that seems like a lot of money and it is, but these are some very expensive practices to implement."
The manure storage facility will allow farmers to spread their fertilizer after winter. Fertilizers, which come in a liquid form, can freeze in winter months but needs to be applied before that happens and become unusable, Schlupp said.
"Because it's cold, nothing is really growing so those nutrients aren't really being taken up by the plants," said Grove. "So the nutrients, since they're not being absorbed, are more susceptible to becoming runoff."
The grant money will also go towards a curbed barnyard to help prevent further runoff as well as grassed waterways, which will capture some of the excess nutrients, Schlupp said
"There will also be animal walkways so that they no longer have direct access to the creek," she said.
Conservation districts: Because of the magnitude of the project, the York County Conservation District declined to act as the sponsor for the project, so its counterpart in Chester County — which is well equipped and experienced in handling the legality and specificity of grants — stepped into to help and accepted the funds, according to officials.
"A government entity is required to act as a sponsor to receive these monies," Grove said. The sponsor "acts more or less like a bank. They have to be the pass-through for the money — they make sure bills get paid for the project and they sign the invoices, things like that."
York County Conservation District Manager Mark Kimmel said the district doesn't have much experience in large-scale projects and was concerned about the "complex legality" and "liability" of the project.
"When we first became aware of this project, they were already in talks with Chester County," Kimmel said. "We didn't see it as them stepping on our toes or anything like that, we're happy that they decided to take care of it."
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at firstname.lastname@example.org