The road maps used by states to get to cleaner rivers, and a cleaner Bay, are called tributary strategies. They are river-specific plans that spell out in detail exactly what mix of actions is required to meet the nutrient and sediment goals for each basin: the miles of riparian forest buffers that must be restored, the number of acres of cover crops that must be planted, the number of wastewater treatment plants upgraded, and so on.

During 2003 and 2004, the six states in the watershed and the District of Columbia worked to write a total of 36 tributary strategies. The area covered by an individual strategy generally is a state’s portion of a particular river basin (the Potomac, for instance, has separate strategies for Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.) Also, some large rivers, such as the Susquehanna, are divided into subbasins within states in order to write more localized strategies—there were 13 in Pennsylvania alone.

Strategies were drafted independently by each state, typically with the input of stakeholder groups with the aim of building support among those who will have to implement large portions of the plans, such as farmers, local government officials and watershed groups.

Before they could be considered “final,” all of the strategies had to be evaluated through the Bay Program’s Watershed Model to confirm that the actions outlined would achieve the nutrient and sediment reduction goals assigned for that area under average rainfall conditions.

The strategies also had to account for such variables as land use change, changing farm animal populations and growing human populations.

In many instances, the strategies had to call for levels of implementation that went beyond those agreed upon by stakeholders in order to meet the goals.

Indeed, the actions outlined in the plans include unprecedented levels of nutrient controls throughout the watershed. Almost every acre of farmland in the watershed would have nutrient management plans to guide fertilizer and manure applications, as well as soil and water conservation plans.

More than 2 million acres would be planted with cover crops each fall to soak up excess nutrients—a 15-fold increase over what is planted today. Thousands of acres of old urban areas would be retrofitted to hold polluted runoff after storms. And, the use of high-tech, nitrogen-removing septic systems would become commonplace. Almost all of the major wastewater treatment plants would get upgrades.

The tributary strategies do not state how they would be paid for: Some estimates put implementation costs at nearly $30 billion. Nor do they set schedules for implementing control practices.

Tributary strategies should be considered a framework for future action. They outline a suite of actions which, if fully implemented, should attain nutrient and sediment goals. But as technologies improve, and innovations provide new nutrient and sediment reduction techniques, the strategies are expected to be revised.

Tributary Strategies On The Internet

Links to most of the state’s tributary strategies may be found on the Bay Program’s web site at http://

In addition, several states have web pages devoted to tributary strategies, along with other supporting information.