How are we doing in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay?

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a comprehensive “pollution diet” to initiate sweeping actions to restore clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and the region’s streams, creeks and rivers, including the Susquehanna River basin.  Despite restoration efforts during the past 25 years, the TMDL was prompted by insufficient progress and continued poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

The TMDL – the largest ever developed by EPA – identifies the necessary pollution reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment across Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia and sets pollution limits necessary to meet applicable water quality standards. Specifically, the TMDL sets Bay watershed caps of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year – requiring a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment across the bay states.

The TMDL is designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025. Pennsylvania submitted its Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan in 2011. Pennsylvania needs to start work on a Phase II plan that will consider pollution reduction goals at the local level.

Despite target allocations for each state, there have been complaints from agricultural and municipal representatives that the targets cannot be met.  EPA expects that each state will provide reasonable assurance that it will achieve the necessary pollution reductions. In addition, EPA will provide enhanced oversight of Pennsylvania agriculture, Virginia and West Virginia urban stormwater, and Pennsylvania and West Virginia wastewater.  If the states do make sufficient progress, EPA may utilize contingencies that include additional controls on permitted sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal feeding operations and municipal stormwater systems.

The Choose Clean Water campaign is a coalition of environmental groups working to encourage each state to meet its commitment to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.  The Coalition has added protection of communities from water pollution created by gas drilling as one its goals.  The Sierra Club has participating in calls and conferences with the Choose Clean Water campaign to ensure that states honor their commitments to clean up the bay. For more info:


Barbara Benson, PA Chapter Water Co-Chair

Published 2013