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Water Quality Planning

Chesapeake Bay

The current conditions in the Bay are not healthy because of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. Rain, which leads to stormwater runoff, causes these pollutants to get into local streams, creeks, rivers and the Bay itself.

Sunrise Virginia Beach  (Sidd Kumar - PlanRVA)
Sunrise Virginia Beach (Sidd Kumar - PlanRVA)

About the Chesapeake Bay TMDL

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is about 64,000 square miles the Bay watershed encompasses parts of 6 states (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware) and all of Washington DC. The Richmond region is located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Since the late 1990's, portions of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries have been identified as not meeting water quality standards associated with the Clean Water Act.

The main pollutants are nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

To bring the Bay and its tributaries up to water quality standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required that a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) be developed.

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL was issued in 2010.

A recreational fishing charter boat travels on the Chesapeake Bay (Steve Droter - Chesapeake Bay Program)

Main Pollutants

  • Nitrogen and Phosphorus

High amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Bay contribute to algal blooms, excessive growth of algae that absorbs oxygen from the water. Blooms lead to "dead zones" that harm fish, shellfish, and even people with susceptible immune systems. Most nitrogen and phosphorus pollution derive from agricultural runoff, wastewater treatment plants, urban and suburban runoff.

Nutrient Pollution - EPA February 2019
Nutrient Pollution - EPA February 2019
  • Sediment

Excessive sediment, the result of eroding rock and soil, dirties water and limits the amount of sunlight that reaches plants, fish, and other aquatic life. Sediment comes from eroding land and stream banks as a result of natural processes, often advanced by human land uses such as agriculture or construction.  Heavy rain events can lead to increases in sediment pollution.

Sediment Pollution – State of the James , 2007
Sediment Pollution – State of the James , 2007

Virginia’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan ( WIP)

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL requires reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. This federal effort is intended to achieve water quality standards for each of the Bay’s tributaries and the main stem of the Bay itself.

Virginia plans to achieve pollution reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries by working with various partners and stakeholders across the watershed.

Everyone is involved: agriculture, industry, wastewater treatment plants, real estate developers, homeowners, forestry operations, and local governments.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed, VDEQ
Chesapeake Bay Watershed, VDEQ


A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, mouth of a bay, or any point along a stream channel. Watersheds can be as small as a footprint or large enough to encompass all the land that drains water into rivers that drain into Chesapeake Bay, where it enters the Atlantic Ocean.


A tributary is a freshwater stream that feeds into a larger stream, river or other body of water. The larger, or parent, river is called the mainstem like the Jame River that drains in to the Chesapeake Bay.

Best Management Practice (BMP)

Best Management Practices are structural or engineered devices and behavioral practices that reduce or prevent pollution in stormwater.

TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load)

TMDL identifies how much of a pollutant a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

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