Among the core best-management practices being promoted in the watershed:

• Using conservation-tillage, such as no-till, to eliminate soil loss;

• Planting of cover crops in growers' rotations to have plants in the soil all the time, even through winter, to reduce erosion;

• Managing nutrients by using proper manure-application rates, and reducing runoff from barnyards;

• Erecting stream-bank fencing and riparian buffers to keep livestock out of streams. Forested buffers outperform grass buffers, Royer pointed out.

At the same time, Penn State researchers and Extension educators are developing innovative practices that minimize nutrient loss while maximizing yields and bottom lines. "Manure application is a challenge in a no-till scenario because the manure does not get incorporated into the soil," Royer said.

"So Penn State Extension and the USDA Agricultural Research Service are offering opportunities for Conewago farmers to utilize equipment that injects manure into the ground. This minimizes surface runoff of nutrients or volatilization into the air, while directing the manure where it's needed the most — in the soil for plant uptake."

Penn State Extension educators also have formed a discussion group of dairy farmers in the watershed that meets on a regular basis and discusses topics such as precision feeding, a practice that can reduce the amount of excess nutrients in manure. "We hope these innovative methods will take off as a result," he added.

Royer warned that it will take patience to assess the project, however. "We won't know right away if the actions being taken in the next few years are helping the Conewago," he said. "There could be a lag time of a decade or more until you see a difference in the stream. It can take 15 years after you plant a forested buffer for trees to mature."