The federal Environmental Protection Agency's next target for ensuring nonpolluting farms in Lancaster County is the 88-farm Muddy Run watershed, mostly in Leacock Township.
This time, however, the agency said it won't just show up to inspect farms as it did amid local criticism last fall near Intercourse.
Instead, EPA officials said they would give the mostly Plain Sect farmers until Dec. 3 to voluntarily evaluate their farm operations and make any changes needed to be in compliance with minimum state regulations governing erosion and sediment runoff.
Farms that have not sent in documentation that they have these plans may be targeted for inspections by EPA and find themselves classified as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
Such designated farms are subject to more stringent permitting requirements, EPA said.
The first time EPA targeted a watershed, last fall, in Watson Run near Intercourse, 85 percent of 24 farms inspected did not have the required plans, the agency said.
However, Lancaster County Conservation District officials have said some of the farms had necessary conservation measures in place but just needed documentation.
EPA detailed the upcoming program at a meeting with the Lancaster County Conservation District board on July 8 in Lancaster.
At that meeting, board members advised EPA to take a "balanced approach" and not to be heavy-handed in ensuring protection of natural resources for future generations.
Directors told EPA officials in attendance that they may be placing a heavy burden on farmers already just trying to survive in tough economic times.
"EPA expects all farms in the Commonwealth to comply with state and federal law," EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, said in a press release Wednesday.
"We anticipate that the majority of farmers in Muddy Run will use this opportunity to voluntarily evaluate their operations to ensure they're in compliance."
Don McNutt, administrator of the county conservation district, said, "Some farms may already meet or exceed baseline requirements, yet lack the proper documentation. Other farms may need to implement additional best-management practices to meet baseline compliance."
Addressing another concern voiced by conservation district officials, EPA said local farmers can receive financial assistance from the conservation district and federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, as well as private consultants, to develop required plans and needed conservation measures.
Those practices may include planting cover crops, proper manure storage, streambank fencing, riparian forest buffers, gutters on buildings and restricting winter spreading of manure.
EPA has gotten more involved in farm operations in Pennsylvania and other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed since an executive order by President Barack Obama last year to clean up the bay.
Heavily farmed Lancaster County has been specifically mentioned by EPA in the battle plan as a target area, along with poultry farming in the Delmarva Peninsula and Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.