West Virginia recently became the sixth — and final state in the watershed — to sign an agreement pledging to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Gov. Bob Wise in June signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bay Program committing his state to “work cooperatively to achieve the nutrient and sediment reduction targets that we agree are necessary to achieve the goals of a clean Chesapeake Bay by 2010.”

Both Delaware and New York had already signed the agreement. The agreement does not make the three “headwater states” members of the Bay Program, but it does commit them to work toward achieving nutrient and sediment goals that will be set for the Bay later this year.

“With my signature on this memorandum, West Virginia officially becomes a partner at the table, joining the other states that have voluntarily agreed to maintain and protect the Potomac River watershed,” Wise said. “Through this effort, we reaffirm our cooperative obligation to protect one of American’s great natural treasures — the Chesapeake Bay.”

None of the three headwater states were asked to join the Bay Program when it was created in 1983 because they were considered to be too far away to significantly affect the Bay, and only a portion of each state is within the Chesapeake basin. Just 15 percent of West Virginia is in the Bay watershed.

But the situation changed in 1999, when a federal judge said that a cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, had to be developed by 2011 to help Virginia meet its water quality standards. A TMDL can force all upstream areas that contribute to downstream water quality problems to curb pollution.

To prevent the need for a TMDL, which could force new regulatory actions, one of the key commitments of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement — signed by the EPA administrator; the District of Columbia mayor; the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; and the Chesapeake Bay Commission — called for cleaning up the Bay by 2010.

“West Virginia’s involvement in Bay restoration highlights the need for expanded partnerships between the Bay states and their upstream neighbors to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment flowing into the Bay,” said Don Welsh, EPA Region III Administrator. “With West Virginia’s assistance, we hope to improve the quality of the water flowing into the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and farther downstream into the Bay.”

Of the roughly 284 million pounds of nitrogen estimated to enter the Bay in an average year, about 11 percent — or 32 million pounds — stem from the three headwater states, according to the Bay Program. Of those, about 18 million pounds come from New York, 8 million from West Virginia and 6 million from Delaware.

Almost all of the nutrients from West Virginia go into the Potomac River drainage. West Virginia contributes about 13 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Potomac.

The EPA’s Bay Program Office earlier this year said it would give each of the three states $250,000 over the next two years to help pay for actions that would control nutrients and sediment.

Participating in the Bay cleanup effort could bring other benefits to the headwater states as well.

The Bay Program states are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to help farmers install runoff control devices and other conservation practices. By signing the memorandum of understanding, the headwater states could bolster their chances of securing additional money from such programs.

Also, by accepting nutrient reduction allocations from the Bay Program, the headwater states would be able to participate in other interstate efforts to control pollution, such as a nutrient trading program that is being developed.