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EPA accepts 2nd phase of W. Va.’s bay plan

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia is moving to the next phase of its plan to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted the second phase of the state’s watershed implementation plan, part of a six-state and District of Columbia partnership to reduce pollution entering the bay.

The “pollution diet” reduces sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus from various sources, including agriculture, wastewater treatment plants and storm water.

“The big news is the EPA took off the backstops from the agriculture segment,” Alana Hartman, the Potomac River Basin coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, told The Journal newspaper.

Backstops are federal contingency actions that can be used, if necessary, to spur progress. The EPA had placed the backstops when West Virginia submitted the plan’s first phase because the agency was not satisfied with how it addressed pollutant runoff from agricultural operations.

“They saw that we had done a better job documenting the number and type of [best management] practices and by whom they would be carried out,” Hartman said. “And our practices were based on producer feedback — they were more realistic — and it’s a voluntary strategy, which the EPA was looking for.”

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture is offering free nutrient management planning services to farmers. The agency said these plans allow farmers to use scientific methods to formalize what they already are doing.

“We’re pleased that EPA has recognized some of the steps WVDA has outlined in Phase II of our Watershed Implementation Plan. We’re hoping this is a sign of a more moderate approach, but we also recognize that EPA could change course at any time,” the department said in a statement issued Friday.

Eight Eastern Panhandle counties are within the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed.

In July, reports released at the annual meeting of the executive council of the Chesapeake Bay Program indicated that the six states, which include Maryland and Virginia, and the District of Columbia are on pace to restore the bay.

The concerted, measurable cleanup plan comes decades after the decline of the bay’s signature oyster and blue crab populations. The latter has rebounded after falling to historic lows. Part of the crab recovery is due to a huge decline in the number of commercial crabbers, who have left the waters.

Pollution has also been blamed for declines in aquatic grasses and for lesions on stripers, or rockfish. Scientists have attributed that to stress related to declines in food sources.