March 6, 2019
Patrick McDonnell, Secretary
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Rachel Carson Building
400 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Dear Secretary McDonnell:
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) is pleased to offer its comments on the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) draft technical guidance document, “Soil Erosion and Sedimentation (E&S) Control Manual for Agricultural Operations (#383-4200-002),” intended to further explain the requirements of an agricultural E&S plan under 25 Pa. Code § 102.4(a). PFB is a general farm organization, made up of more than 62,000 members. Since 1950, PFB has provided support, advocacy and informational and professional services for Pennsylvania agriculture and farm families producing a diverse array of food and fiber for American consumers. We offer the following observations on the draft document:
1. The level of “user-friendliness” of the new guidance document will likely vary depending on the person creating the E&S plan. The new DEP E&S Manual was planned and written for agricultural producers and other landowners that may not be familiar with the in-depth technical aspects of E&S planning. The E&S Manual does offer erosion and sediment plans that comply with state regulations in five steps or planning sections, but it requires accessing online sources for maps that identify soil types, measure slopes and predict tolerable soil loss. Therefore, the possibility exists that some agricultural producers will be knowledgeable about conservation planning and will use the E&S Manual successfully, while others may find the format cumbersome and require the support of the conservation district or a private consultant. Using the term “user-friendly” may not accurately describe the E&S Manual for everyone; however, even with the probable need for collaboration with a technical provider, the E&S Manual can be completed in a timely fashion avoiding the exceptionally long delay experienced when the plan is solely the responsibility of the conservation district.
2. Clarity is needed regarding the intended audience for each part of the E&S manual. Agricultural producers will need to be mindful that the E&S Manual consists of two parts. The first part contains individual information required for the farmer to complete his own plan, while the second contains additional technical information written for the professional planner. The agricultural producer will need to segregate the first part from the second to avoid confusion and focus only on the information pertinent to writing his own plan. At the same time, information is needed to inform agricultural producers that the E&S plan is to be filed on the premises and does not need to be submitted to any agency, but must be available during a complaint or other investigation arising from conservation issues on the farm.
3. Clarity is needed regarding the potential need to access some of the information needed to complete an E&S plan. Tolerable soil loss and the predicted average annual soil loss are calculated from information available on websites published in the E&S Manual and reported as part of the E&S Plan. The websites could be unfamiliar and a challenge to navigate for some producers which may require additional assistance to complete the calculations.
4. The practicality of the DEP E & S Manual may not be valid for agricultural producers who experience rill erosion on their farms. Rill erosion is measured by a small ditch one wide by one inch deep and accounts for soil losses of 6 to 7 tons per acre per year which exceeds the tolerable soil losses (T value) of 3 to 5 tons per acre per year which places the farm out of compliance. The presence of rill erosion disqualifies a producer from using the E&S Manual and will require the assistance of the conservation district, NRCS or a commercial planner to complete an E&S Plan that is compliant with state regulations. On a related note, there is a discrepancy between the description of “rill” on page 52 and the definition of “rill erosion” on page 4, which describes a rill as “typically less than 4 inches deep.” At best, the use of different descriptions is confusing.
5. Information in the draft manual should be rearranged in order to better facilitate completion of E&S plans. There are two sets of tables located in the back of the E&S Manual. One set of tables offer an example of a completed E&S Plan while the other set consists of blank tables that require information on conservation practices from the agricultural producer. As a practical matter, it may be more convenient to locate the instructions and tables in Part 1 to improve the continuity and flow of information to help the agricultural producer write his own plan. If the rearrangement of the Ag E&S Plan instructions and tables are not feasible, at least a clear reference boldly stated at the end of Part 1 should direct producers to the back of the E&S Manual to find the appropriate instructions and tables.
In conclusion, perhaps the most important purpose that this document should serve is to provide simple, clear guidance to farmers on how to prepare an E&S plan that materially addresses the most concerning features of his operation. PFB therefore recommends that the Department consider developing a “checklist” of features to look for when preparing a plan, and also provide information on where to look for and how to respond to commonly occurring challenges that those features may present. Doing so would give operators their best opportunity to craft a workable plan that meets their obligations in the most cost-effective and efficient manner, while allowing the Department to maximize the value of its available resources.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments.
Director, Regulatory Affairs