Clean Water

Sustainable Agriculture

Restoring clean water and healthy habitats in the Chesapeake Bay means engaging with Maryland’s largest industry—agriculture—to reduce excess nutrient and sediment runoff. We are committed to keeping nutrients on our farms and out of our waters, while supporting sustainable and thriving farming communities that are feeding a growing population.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is many things to many people. For some, it’s a beach destination. Others come to learn about its fascinating history, while still others are drawn to the recreational activities on the Chesapeake Bay. However, as one travels across the Delmarva Peninsula, it becomes apparent that agriculture drives the economy on the Shore.

Agriculture can also help to drive a clean Chesapeake Bay, which is why we work with farmers to increase the precision application of fertilizer on the fields, to plant natural buffers between the fields and streams, and to restore floodplains and wetlands downstream from farm communities.

Much of our work focuses along the 73-mile long Pocomoke River, which drains water from four Delmarva counties. In the mid-20th century, an 18-mile section of the Pocomoke River was dredged and channelized, disconnecting the river from thousands of acres of floodplain.

“Outside a river’s main channel, water spreads out and is slowed by vegetation,” explains Dr. Kathleen Boomer, the Conservancy’s watershed scientist working out of the Easton, Maryland office. “Sediment settles out of the water, and nutrients in the water are used by plants and trees in the floodplain. The whole process helps to reduce erosion and improve water quality.”

This year, we marked the completion of phase one of one of the largest ecological restoration efforts in Maryland’s history. We restored more than 1,900 acres of floodplains along this key tributary to the Chesapeake Bay.

This scale and impact could not have been achieved without the collaboration of several federal, state and private partners. We are now working to replicate this best practice across the Chesapeake Bay watershed and around the world.

Partner Spotlight

The Nature Conservancy and The Delaware Maryland Agribusiness Association joined forces to convene the Delmarva Conservation Partnership. This unique public-private collaboration brings together over 30 groups - including conservation organizations, agribusiness, government agencies, and the scientific community - to advance nutrient management practices and to strategically protect and restore wetlands.

With initial funding provided through a $10M partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Delmarva Conservation Partnership committed to achieving the following 5-year goals:

  • Improve nutrient management practices on 37,000 acres of farmland
  • Protect 1,500 acres of natural filters including wetlands and buffers
  • Eliminate 300,000 pounds of nitrogen delivered to local waterways each year
  • Eliminate 10,000 pounds of phosphorus delivered to local waterways each year
  • Eliminate 20,000 pounds of sediment delivered to local waterways each year

To maximize our outreach to the agricultural community, we partnered with the Delaware–Maryland Agribusiness Association to form the Chesapeake 4R Alliance to advance farmers' nutrient management practices and continue making progress toward clean water and healthy habitats for the Chesapeake Bay.  The alliance includes agribusiness representatives, state and federal agencies, research institutions, and conservation organizations.

Through the alliance, we provide farmers with tools and education to apply the right nutrient sources, in the right places, at the right time, and at the right rate (the 4Rs). Participation in the 4R program not only benefits the Chesapeake Bay, it increases food production and profitability for participating farmers.

Additional Resources
Restoration in the News

Massive project restores Pocomoke River wetlands (January 24, 2018)
A Delmarva ABC affiliate visited the site of the Pocomoke floodplain restoration project with the Conservancy's Mike Dryden and Maryland DNR’s Erin McLaughlin for a TV news segment about the project. 

Massive project aims to fix Pocomoke River (January 11, 2018)
This article and accompanying video highlights The Nature Conservancy's along along the Pocomoke River, restoring thousands of acres of floodplain along a 9-mile stretch of the river.

Pocomoke River Restoration Improves Chesapeake Bay Water Quality (November 9, 2017)
The Nature Conservancy and Maryland Department of Natural Resources have announced the completion of the first stage of a major new project to restore floodplain connectivity to a nine-mile stretch of the Pocomoke River.


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