"Turns out the Conewago is the ideal watershed to address the problems in a focused, targeted way."

According to Royer, Penn State was looking to work with conservation districts and grassroots-based partners in an "ag-impaired" watershed in the excess-nutrient hotspot of south central Pennsylvania. The fact that Royer's group already had done an assessment and restoration plan made the Conewago all the more attractive.

"And the size of watershed was perfect — not tiny but not so large that it encompassed a huge area," he said. "Our goal is to clean up this creek, to get the Conewago off the impaired-waters list."

To start with, Penn State is increasing outreach and education in the watershed, trying to tell as many farmers and residents about why clean water is important — and trying to get them excited about improving water quality. "We want them to make a fundamental shift to adopt the land management practices that improve water quality," he said. "We will work with landowners to employ best-management practices on the ground."

For farmers, this means ensuring every farm has up-to-date conservation plans and nutrient- or manure-management plans, required by state law. "Baseline compliance is a major component of Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay clean-up commitments," said Royer.

"Our ag-technician partners, the conservation districts and the Natural Resource Conservation Service are working with Conewago farmers, with the goal of having all farms in the watershed have plans in place. These plans will identify and prioritize the conservation practices they need to install."