This is the third of a series of annual reports that present the most current figures (2004) about the status of nutrient and sediment reduction efforts aimed at meeting the Bay Program’s water quality goals.

Unlike the last two updates, which put more emphasis on explaining the nutrient and sediment reduction goals themselves, this update puts more emphasis on the efforts aimed at achieving the goals.

It provides more information about individual river basins, including the use of more charts to help present a clearer picture of tributary-specific actions.

This is not a report on the health of the Bay; it is a report on the status of management actions taken toward meeting Chesapeake cleanup goals.

Most of the information in this report comes from data provided by the states to the Bay Program about their progress in implementing a variety of nutrient control efforts, and from computer modeling that estimates the amount of nutrient and sediment reductions those actions should achieve, if they are fully implemented.

Much of those reductions will not be realized in the Bay for years, because many efforts to control runoff—such as planting buffer strips along streams—can take years to become fully effective. Further, it often takes nutrients years to reach the Bay, meaning actions taken today often will not have an impact until sometime in the future.

The purpose of the annual report is to give readers a sense of how much has been accomplished—and how much remains to be done if nutrient and sediment goals are to be achieved by the 2010 target date.

Overview

Since 1950, the population of the watershed has doubled from around 8 million to nearly 16 million. Over that same time, the development of inexpensive chemical fertilizers became available to farmers, allowing fertilizer use to roughly double.

Increased population and increased fertilizer use—as well as increased air pollution—contributed to a sharp increase in the amount of nutrients reaching the Bay, which roughly doubled since midcentury.

That has taken a heavy toll on its water quality, with summertime reports of oxygen-starved “dead zones,” algae blooms and fish kills becoming routine. Underwater grass beds—critical habitats for many species—remain far below historic levels.

Nutrient reduction efforts in the region began in 1987, and in 2000, states committed to restoring Chesapeake water quality by 2010, with firm nutrient and sediment reduction goals established for each major tributary beginning in 2003. Under those goals:

  • Nitrogen inputs were to be slashed from 337.5 million pounds entering the Bay in 1985 (the baseline for measuring reductions) to 175.1 million pounds in 2010.
  • Phosphorus inputs were to be slashed from 27.1 million pounds in 1985 to 12.9 million pounds in 2010.
  • Sediment inputs were to be slashed from 5.83 million tons in 1985 to 4.15 million tons in 2010.

To be on track to meet those goals, the Bay region in 2004 needed to achieve a 14.3 million pound nitrogen reduction. It got a 4.9 million pound reduction, to 270.1 million pounds, according to model estimates.

Phosphorus fared somewhat better. The region needed to achieve a 930,000 pound reduction in phosphorus to be on track for its 2010 goal. It got a 560,000 pound reduction, to 18.7 million pounds, according to model estimates.

Sediment inputs declined by about 80,000 tons to 4.9 million tons, according to model estimates.

Some improvement in the pace may be en route. New requirements announced last year will set discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants and industries and should result in accelerated nutrient reductions in the coming years. In addition, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have announced increased spending for programs that will help to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.

But to meet the 2010 goal, the hill gets steeper each year. Nitrogen reductions would need to be accelerated to nearly 16 million pounds a year (from 2005 through 2010), and phosphorus reductions to nearly 1 million pounds annually.

River Basin Overviews: