Chesapeake Bay TMDL
Frequently Asked Questions about the Bay TMDL
- General Information
- Developing the Bay TMDL
- Accountability & Goals
- Watershed Implementation Plans
- Public Participation
- Final TMDL & Next Steps
What action has EPA taken?
What is a TMDL?
What are the primary elements of a TMDL?
Why is a TMDL being developed for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries?
What are some of the features of the Bay TMDL?
How are the pollution limits set and what are those limits?
How are the Bay and its tidal tributaries impaired?
What are the sources of pollution?
How is Chesapeake Bay water quality impacted by actions on the land?
How long has the Bay TMDL process been underway?
When does the TMDL anticipate the Bay will be restored?
How is the Bay TMDL connected to the Presidential Executive Order to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay?
Will the Bay TMDL have benefits for waterways throughout the watershed?
There have been many TMDLs written in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. How do they relate to this Bay TMDL?
What is the Chesapeake Bay Program?
How large is the Chesapeake Bay? How big is the watershed that drains into it? How many people live within the watershed?
Q. What action has EPA taken?
A. On December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a historic and comprehensive “pollution diet” with rigorous accountability measures to initiate sweeping actions to restore clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and the region’s streams, creeks and rivers.
Q. What is a TMDL?
A. The Clean Water Act (CWA) sets an overarching environmental goal that all waters in the United States be “fishable” and “swimmable.” More specifically it requires states and the District of Columbia to establish appropriate uses for their waters and adopt water quality standards that are protective of those uses. The CWA also requires that every two years jurisdictions develop – with EPA approval – a list of waterways that are impaired by pollutants and do not meet water quality standards. For those waterways identified on the impaired list, a TMDL must be developed. A TMDL is essentially a “pollution diet” that identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant the waterway can receive and still meet water quality standards.
Q. What are the primary elements of a TMDL?
A. The primary elements of a TMDL are “wasteload allocations” for “point sources” like sewage treatment plants, urban stormwater systems and large animal feeding operations, and “load allocations” for “non point sources” such as runoff from agricultural lands and nonregulated stormwater from urban and suburban lands. There is also a margin of safety built in.
Q. Why is a TMDL being developed for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries?
A. Despite extensive restoration efforts during the last 25 years, the Bay TMDL was prompted by insufficient progress and continued poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. The TMDL is required under the federal Clean Water Act and responds to consent decrees in Virginia and the District of Columbia from the late 1990s. It is also a keystone commitment of a federal strategy to meet President Obama’s Executive Order 13508 to restore and protect the Bay.
Q. What are some of the features of the Bay TMDL?
A. More than 40,000 TMDLs have been completed across the United States, but the Chesapeake Bay TMDL will be the largest and most complex thus far – it is designed to achieve significant reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution throughout a 64,000-square-mile watershed that includes the District of Columbia and large sections of six states. The TMDL is actually a combination of 92 smaller TMDLs for individual Chesapeake Bay tidal segments and includes pollution limits that are sufficient to meet state water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity, underwater Bay grasses and chlorophyll-a, an indicator of algae levels.
Q. How are the pollution limits set and what are those limits?
A. The TMDL sets pollution limits necessary to meet applicable water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers. Specifically, the TMDL set Bay watershed limits of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus, and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year. That represents a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. These pollution limits are further divided by jurisdiction and major river basin based on state-of-the-art modeling tools, extensive monitoring data, peer-reviewed science, and close interaction with jurisdiction partners.
Q. How are the Bay and its tidal tributaries impaired?
A. Most of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are listed as impaired because of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create “dead zones” where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater Bay grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom.
Q. What are the sources of pollution?
A. The high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment enter the water from a variety of sources, including agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, onsite septic systems, air pollution, and other sources.
Q. How is Chesapeake Bay water quality impacted by actions on the land?
A. The Bay watershed is 16 times the size of the Bay, a ratio much higher than any other comparable watershed in the world. That characteristic makes the Bay highly susceptible to actions taken on the land, including those associated with agriculture, development, transportation and wastewater treatment.
Q. How long has the Bay TMDL process been underway?
A. Since 2000, the seven jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) EPA, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which are partners in the Chesapeake Bay Program, have been planning for a Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Since September 2005, the seven jurisdictions have been actively involved in decision-making to develop the TMDL. During the October 2007 meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee, the Bay watershed jurisdictions and EPA agreed that EPA would establish the multi-state TMDL. Since 2008, EPA has sent official letters to the jurisdictions detailing all facets of the TMDL, including: nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment allocations, schedules for developing the TMDL and pollution reduction plans; EPA’s expectations and evaluation criteria for jurisdiction plans to meet the TMDL pollution limits; reasonable assurance for controlling non point source pollution; and backstop actions that EPA could take to ensure progress.
Q. When does the TMDL anticipate the Bay will be restored?
A. 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, with practices in place by 2017 to meet 60 percent of the necessary pollution reductions. While it will take years after 2025 for the Bay and its tributaries to fully heal, EPA expects some areas of the Bay will recover before others and there will be gradual and continued improvement in water quality as controls are put in place around the watershed.
Q. How is the Bay TMDL connected to the Presidential Executive Order to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay?
A. President Obama issued Executive Order 13508 on May 12, 2009, which directed the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is a keystone commitment in the strategy developed by federal agencies to meet the President’s Executive Order.
Q. Will the Bay TMDL have benefits for waterways throughout the watershed?
A. The pollution controls employed to meet the TMDL will have significant benefits for water quality in the tens of thousands of streams, creeks and rivers throughout the region, improving waterways that support local economies and livelihoods, and are used for fishing, swimming, boating, and often as a source of drinking water.
Q. There have been many TMDLs written in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. How do they relate to this Bay TMDL?
A. Previously-approved TMDLs were established to protect local waters. While some were based on reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, many were for other pollutants. In contrast, the Bay TMDL is based on protecting the Bay and its tidal waters from excessive nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. For waters that have both local TMDLs and Bay TMDLs for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, the more stringent of the TMDLs will apply.
Q.What is the Chesapeake Bay Program?
A. The Chesapeake Bay Program includes the signers of the original 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement – the jurisdictions of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia; EPA, representing the federal government; and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, representing Bay jurisdiction legislators. It also includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the headwater jurisdictions of Delaware, New York and West Virginia. The Program is led by the Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes the EPA Administrator, the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the mayor of the District of Columbia, and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. The Principals’ Staff Committee, which includes the EPA Region 3 Administrator, state secretaries and others, serves as an advisory body to the Executive Council.
Q. How large is the Chesapeake Bay? How big is the watershed that drains into it? How many people live within the watershed?
A. The Bay itself is about 200 miles long, home to more than 3,700 species of plants, fish and other animals. The Bay watershed totals about 64,000 square miles, covering parts of six states and the District of Columbia. It stretches from Cooperstown, New York, to Norfolk, Virginia. Nearly 17 million people live in the watershed, and the population is growing by more than 130,000 each year.
Who developed the Bay TMDL?
- EPA provided the jurisdictions with loading allocations for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment for the jurisdictions and individual major basins.
- Jurisdictions developed Phase 1 Watershed Implementation Plans to achieve those basin-jurisdiction allocations. In those draft WIPs, jurisdictions made decisions on how to further sub-allocate the basin-jurisdiction loadings to various individual point sources and a number of point and nonpoint source sectors.
- EPA evaluated the draft WIPs and where deficiencies existed, EPA provided backstop allocations in the draft TMDL that consisted of a hybrid of the jurisdiction WIP allocations modified by EPA allocations for some source sectors to fill gaps in the WIPs.
- EPA published the draft TMDL for a 45-day public comment period and held 18 public meetings in all seven jurisdictions. EPA received, reviewed and considered public comments for the final TMDL. EPA's response to those public comments is an appendix to the final TMDL.
- Jurisdictions, working closely with EPA, revised and strengthened their respective Phase I WIPs and submitted final Phase I WIPs to EPA.
- EPA evaluated the final Phase I WIPs and used them, where possible, to develop the final TMDL.
- Allocated loads should protect living resources of the Bay and its tidal tributaries and should result in all segments of the Bay mainstem, tidal tributaries and embayments meeting applicable water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll a, water clarity and underwater Bay grasses.
- Tributary basins that contribute the most to the Bay water quality problems should do the most to resolve those problems (on a pound per pound basis).
- All tracked and reported reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads are credited toward achieving final assigned loads
What factors were considered in developing the Bay TMDL?
What steps were involved in development of the Bay TMDL?
How is modeling incorporated in the TMDL development?
What were the principals involved in assigning pollution loadings?
What else is considered in developing the TMDL?
How will federal agencies contribute to the restoration effort?
Q. Who developed the Bay TMDL?
A. EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division had primary responsibility for completion of the Bay TMDL. The region worked closely with modeling and water quality experts at the Chesapeake Bay Program. EPA Headquarters and EPA Region 2 also provided guidance and technical support. The Bay TMDL was co-signed by the Regional Administrators in Regions 2 and 3 since the Chesapeake Bay watershed spans both regions. The Bay Program’s committee structure was used to engage the jurisdictions in the development of the TMDL. That is, Bay TMDL decisions were vetted through the program’s Water Quality Goal Implementation Team (formerly the Water Quality Steering Committee), and major policy decisions were further reviewed by the Principals’ Staff Committee. When consensus could not be reached on key decision points, EPA was the final decision-maker.
Q. What factors were considered in developing the Bay TMDL?
A. Development of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL required extensive knowledge of the stream flow characteristics of the watershed, sources of pollution, distribution and acreage of the various land uses, appropriate best management practices, the transport and fate of pollutants, precipitation data and many other factors.
Q. How is modeling incorporated in the TMDL development?
A. The TMDL is informed by a series of models, calibrated to decades of water quality and other data, and refined based on input from dozens of Chesapeake Bay scientists. Modeling is an approach that uses observed and simulated data to replicate what is occurring in the environment to make future predictions, and was a critical and valuable tool to develop the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
Q. What were the principals involved in assigning pollution loadings?
A. Since nitrogen and phosphorus loadings from all parts of the Bay watershed have an impact on the impaired tidal segments of the Bay and its rivers, it was necessary for EPA to allocate the nitrogen and phosphorus loadings in an equitable manner to the jurisdictions and individual major basins. EPA used three basic guides to divide these loads.
Q. What else is considered in developing the TMDL?
A. To ensure that these pollutant loadings will attain and maintain applicable water quality standards, the TMDL calculations were developed to account for critical environmental conditions a waterway would face and seasonal variation. An implicit margin of safety for nitrogen and phosphorus and an explicit margin of safety for sediment, are also included in the TMDL.
Q. Does EPA have a share of the load?
A. Yes. EPA has committed to reducing air deposition of nitrogen to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay from 17.9 to 15.7 million pounds per year. The reductions will be achieved through implementation of federal air regulations during the coming years.
Q. How will federal agencies contribute to the restoration effort?
A. Federal agencies will greatly contribute to restoration of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, particularly through implementation of the new federal strategy created under President Obama’s Executive Order. Eleven federal agencies have committed to a comprehensive suite of actions and pursuit of critical environmental goals on the same 2025 timeline as the TMDL. Additionally, federal agencies will be establishing and meeting two-year milestones, with the specific charge of taking actions that directly support the jurisdictions in reducing pollution and restoring water quality.
What are Watershed Implementation Plans, or WIPs?
Did EPA assist the jurisdictions in developing their WIPs?
What were the two principal expectations for the WIPs?
What was EPA’s evaluation of the draft WIPs submitted in September 2010?
What was the result of EPA’s review of the draft WIPs?
How did the final WIPs compare with the draft WIPs?
How did the stronger WIPs impact the final TMDL?
What is the primary purpose of the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans?
What are the different ways that jurisdictions could express "local area targets" in their Phase II WIPs?
How many input decks that identify nutrient and sediment controls for model analysis does EPA expect the 7 Bay jurisdictions to submit as part of their Phase II WIPs? What level of detail is required for these input decks?
- Committing to more stringent nitrogen and phosphorus limits at wastewater treatment plants, including on the James River in Virginia. (Virginia, New York, Delaware)
- Pursuing state legislation to fund wastewater treatment plant upgrades, urban stormwater management, and agricultural programs. (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia)
- Implementing a progressive stormwater permit to reduce pollution. (District of Columbia)
- Dramatically increasing enforcement and compliance of state requirements for agriculture. (Pennsylvania)
- Committing state funding to develop and implement state-of-the-art technologies for converting animal manure to energy for farms. (Pennsylvania)
- Considering implementation of mandatory programs for agriculture by 2013 if pollution reductions fall behind schedule (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York)
- Implementation goals, such as:
- The number of BMPs that need to be implemented (e.g. 5,000 animal waste management systems compared to 1,000 in place today) or the number of acres receiving BMPs (e.g. cover crops on 500,000 acres compared to 300,000 today).
- The percent of sources with BMPs (e.g. 100% of dairy on feed management compared to 10% today or non-commodity cover crops on 80% of lands compared to 20% today).
- Phase 5.3.2 Watershed Model inputs or outputs, such as pounds of pollutant reductions to be achieved by individual counties.
- Programmatic actions, such as adopting ordinances that will help municipalities meet Bay TMDL allocations for stormwater.
Q. What are Watershed Implementation Plans, or WIPs?
A. The cornerstone of the accountability framework is the jurisdictions’ development of Watershed Implementation Plans, which serve as roadmaps for how and when a jurisdiction plans to meet its pollutant allocations under the TMDL. In their Phase I WIPs, the jurisdictions were expected to subdivide the Bay TMDL allocations among pollutant sources; evaluate their current legal, regulatory, programmatic and financial tools available to implement the allocations; identify and rectify potential shortfalls in attaining the allocations; describe mechanisms to track and report implementation activities; provide alternative approaches; and outline a schedule for implementation.
Q. Did EPA assist the jurisdictions in developing their WIPs?
A. EPA provided the jurisdictions with detailed expectations for WIPs in November 2009 and evaluation criteria in April 2010. EPA also provided considerable technical and financial assistance to the jurisdictions. EPA worked with the jurisdictions to evaluate numerous “what if” scenarios – combinations of practices and programs that a jurisdiction could use to achieve its allocations.
Q. What were the two principal expectations for the WIPs?
A. The two most important criteria for a WIP is that it achieves all of the jurisdiction's target allocations at both the jurisdiction and individual basin level, and that it meets EPA's expectations for providing reasonable assurance that reductions will be achieved and maintained, particularly for non-permitted sources like runoff from agricultural lands and currently unregulated stormwater from urban and suburban lands.
Q. What was EPA’s evaluation of the draft WIPs submitted in September 2010?
A. After the draft Phase I WIP submittals in September 2010, a team of EPA sector experts conducted an intense evaluation process, comparing the submissions with EPA expectations. The EPA evaluation concluded that the pollution controls identified in two of the seven jurisdictions’ draft Phase I WIPs met nitrogen and phosphorus allocations and five of the seven jurisdictions’ draft Phase I WIPs met sediment allocations. The EPA evaluation also concluded that none of the seven draft Phase I WIPs met EPA's expectations for providing reasonable assurance that pollution controls identified could actually be implemented to achieve the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reduction targets by 2017 or 2025.
Q. What was the result of EPA’s review of the draft WIPs?
A. The result was a draft TMDL that established allocations based on the adequate portions of the jurisdictions' draft Phase I WIPs along with varying degrees of federal backstop allocations in all seven jurisdictions. Backstop allocations focused on areas where EPA has the federal authority to control pollution allocations through NPDES permits, including wastewater treatment plants, stormwater permits, and animal feeding operations.
Q. How did the final WIPs compare with the draft WIPs?
A.EPA worked closely with each jurisdiction to revise and strengthen its plan. Because of this cooperative work and leadership by the jurisdictions, the final Phase I WIPs were significantly improved. Examples of specific improvements included:
Q. How did the stronger WIPs impact the final TMDL?
A. The improvements to the WIPs enabled EPA to reduce and remove most federal backstops, leaving only a few targeted backstops and a plan for enhanced oversight and contingency actions to ensure progress. As a result, the final TMDL is shaped in large part by the jurisdictions’ plans to reduce pollution. Jurisdiction-based solutions for reducing pollution was a long-standing priority for EPA and why the agency always provided the jurisdictions with flexibility to determine how to reduce pollution in the most cost-effective, efficient and acceptable manner.
Q. What is the primary purpose of the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans?
A. The primary purpose of the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) is to ensure that local partners who play a key role in cleaning up our waterways are engaged and ready to help implement the WIPs. As articulated in the Guide for Chesapeake Bay Jurisdictions for the Development of Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans released on March 30, 2011 (PDF) (6 pg, 49K), Phase II provides the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions with the opportunity to facilitate implementation and refine their WIP strategies and commitments through local partner engagement. Although it varies by jurisdiction, “local partners” could include local governments, conservation districts, planning commissions, federal agencies, utilities, and watershed groups.
The most important element of the Phase II WIP is the narrative, which explains how jurisdictions will work with key partners to get the necessary practices in place by 2025, with practices in place by 2017 that would achieve 60% of the necessary reductions between 2009 and 2025. Jurisdictions are expected to demonstrate in their WIP narratives that local partners (1) are aware of the WIP strategies; (2) understand their contribution to meeting the TMDL allocations; and (3) have been provided with the opportunity to suggest any refinements to the WIP strategies.
Q. What are different ways that jurisdictions could express "local area targets" in their Phase II WIPs?
A. The purpose of “local area targets” is to provide local partners with specific actions or goals that represent their contribution toward meeting the Chesapeake Bay TMDL allocations. Jurisdictions can decide how to define and set local area targets based upon what makes the most sense to their key partners. Examples of ways to express local targets could include:
Q. How many input decks that identify nutrient and sediment controls for model analysis does EPA expect the 7 Bay jurisdictions to submit as part of their Phase II WIPs? What level of detail is required for these input decks?
A. EPA is asking for two input decks from each jurisdiction as part of its Phase II WIP: the first would meet the Phase II WIP planning targets in each major basin by 2025, and the second would include actions in place by 2017 to get 60% of the reductions. Each jurisdiction can decide to what extent they involve local partners in the development of these input decks. EPA has provided Scenario Builder workshops and the CAST tool to help jurisdictions and/or local partners create these input decks.
The Phase II WIP input decks for 2017 and 2025 can focus on meeting the major river basin planning targets in each jurisdiction, or jurisdictions may choose to create input decks that meet finer scale local area targets in each county or sub-watershed. Either way, EPA expects the jurisdictions to submit Phase II WIP narratives that clearly articulate local partners’ roles and responsibilities for implementing their share of the WIP strategies. For example, if jurisdictions target input decks so that some areas are expected to implement more BMPs than others, the WIP narrative strategy would demonstrate how resources and strategies are being targeted to high implementation areas. Alternatively, if input decks do not target BMP implementation to particular areas, the WIP narrative would explain how localities throughout the jurisdiction are prepared to meet implementation goals.
What outreach was done during the public comment period on the draft TMDL?
- Skipping lawn fertilizer, or applying it only once a year in the fall
- Driving less
- Planting native trees and shrubs
- Installing rain barrels and rain gardens.
- Using phosphate-free dishwasher detergent
- Volunteering for a local watershed group
- Picking up after pets
How did EPA engage the public during the development of the Bay TMDL?
What can citizens do to reduce pollution impacting the Chesapeake Bay?
Q. What outreach was done during the public comment period on the draft TMDL?
A. The release of the draft Chesapeake Bay TMDL on September 24, 2010 began a 45-day public comment period that concluded on November 8, 2010. During the comment period EPA conducted 18 public meetings in all seven jurisdictions. More than 2,500 people participated in the public meetings. Seven of these meetings were also broadcast live via online webinars. During the six weeks that EPA officials traveled around the watershed, they also held dozens of meetings with stakeholders, including local governments, agriculture groups, homebuilder and developer associations, wastewater industry representatives and environmental organizations. In response to the TMDL, EPA received more than 14,000 comments – most of which were in support of the TMDL – and the agency’s responses to those comments are included as an appendix to the TMDL.
Q. How did EPA engage the public during the development of the Bay TMDL?
A. The Bay TMDL was developed through a highly-transparent and engaging process, particularly during 2009 and 2010. The outreach effort included hundreds of meetings with interested groups; two rounds of public meetings, stakeholder sessions and media interviews in all seven jurisdictions; a dedicated EPA website, a series of monthly interactive webinars; notices published in the Federal Register; and a close working relationship with Chesapeake Bay Program committees representing citizens, local governments and the scientific community.
What happens now that the TMDL has been established?
How will EPA be monitoring progress by the states and the District?
What are the next phases of the process?
Q. What happens now that the TMDL has been established?
A. Now that the TMDL has been established, the focus shifts to jurisdictions’ implementation of the WIP policies and programs designed to reduce pollution on-the-ground and in-the-water.
Q. How will EPA be monitoring progress by the states and the District?
A. EPA will conduct oversight of WIP implementation and jurisdictions’ progress toward meeting two-year milestones. If progress is insufficient, EPA may take additional federal actions consistent with its December 29, 2009 letter to the jurisdictions that would place additional controls on federally permitted sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal agriculture operations and municipal stormwater systems, as well as target compliance and enforcement activities.
Q. What are the next phases of the process?
A. In 2011, while the jurisdictions continue to implement their final Phase I WIPs, they will begin development of Phase II WIPs, which EPA expects to more closely engage local governments, watershed organizations, conservation districts, citizens and other key stakeholders in reducing water pollution. The Phase II WIPs are expected to provide local area pollution targets for implementation on a smaller scale. Phase III WIPs in 2017 are expected to provide additional detail of restoration actions beyond 2017 and to ensure that the 2025 goals are met.