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Laura McConnell and Jennifer Harman-Fetcho examine oysters. Link to photo information
For an earlier study, ARS chemists Laura McConnell (left) and Jennifer Harman-Fetcho collect Choptank River oysters to be analyzed for agricultural chemicals. Click the image for more information about it.

New Grant to Help Clean Up Chesapeake Watershed

By Sharon Durham
May 19, 2006

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are part of a consortium that has received an $800,000 research grant to implement farming management practices that could improve water quality in the Choptank River watershed, which drains into the Chesapeake Bay. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The consortium received the funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation via its Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watersheds Grant Program.

The consortium includes ARS, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Caroline Soil Conservation District, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the University of Maryland-Extension Service, the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, public drainage associations and local farmers.

Chemist Laura L. McConnell, who works in the ARS Environmental Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory at Beltsville, Md., and soil scientist Gregory W. McCarty in the ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory, also at Beltsville, are leading the ARS component of the project.

Both labs are part of the ARS Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed that includes about 64,000 square miles in six states. The Chesapeake is the nation’s largest fresh water estuary.

Agriculture is the primary land use in the Choptank River watershed, accounting for 58 percent of the land. ARS scientists, along with the rest of the consortium, aim to enroll 6,000 acres per year in a commodity cover crop as a pilot program to study the feasibility of large- scale implementation of this strategy in the Choptank watershed.

By implementing this program, the consortium estimates a short-term reduction of 30,000 pounds per year of potential nitrogen loading into the Choptank River. Installation of drainage controls will reduce potential nitrogen loading by an additional 1,600 pounds per year, and will also help establish new wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat.