The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most vital natural resources the United States, and an effort to keep it clean means supporting safe drinking water, fish and animal habitats, numerous businesses, tourism, and recreation.

Read about the economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay.

The pollutants that threaten the Bay are not always obvious. One could imagine that heavy industry, toxic chemicals, and illegal dumping are the biggest sources of pollutants.  However, the biggest concerns right now are actually the nutrients nitrogen (chemical symbol N) and phosphorous (chemical symbol P), which come from common, every-day sources, such as:  soapy water from washing your car, excess fertilizers used to keep lawns green, and rainwater run-off from hard surfaces like rooves, roads, and parking lots.  These, and other pollutants, like disease-causing bacteria, can also come from improperly maintained septic systems and pet waste.

Stormwater runoff carries these pollutants directly to local waterways that feed the Chesapeake Bay.  When nitrogen and phosphorous get into streams and rivers, the extra nutrients cause harmful algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle.  The algae grow, blocking sunlight that bottom-dwelling plants need, and then the algae die, causing the fungi and bacteria which feed on the decomposing plant matter to produce toxins and use up the water’s dissolved oxygen, killing fish and marine life.

On December 29th, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a historic and comprehensive cleanup plan to guide federal, state, and local actions as their communities clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the connected stream, creeks, and rivers.

Specifically, in Virginia, the TMDL calls for a 20.5% reduction in Nitrogen, 25.2% reduction in Phosphorous and 20.8% reduction in Sediment delivered to the bay. The objective is to have clean up practices, known as stormwater management Best Management Practices (BMPs), in place by 2025 to reach the goal of a clean Chesapeake Bay and local waterways that meet water quality standards.

Virginia developed strategies to reduce nutrient pollution in our waterways through the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).  Phase I WIPs were developed in 2010, and Phase II WIPs were developed in 2012.  The state evaluated our progress toward the 2025 goals in 2017 and found great success.  Communities throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, along with federal and state government, local government, nonprofit organizations, farmers, and private businesses are making significant progress reducing pollutants and protecting the health of local waterways and the bay.

The Middle Peninsular Planning District Commission (MPPDC), its member localities (the counties of Essex, Gloucester, Mathews, Middlesex, King and Queen, and King William and the towns of Tappahannock, Urbana, and West Point), and other communities across Virginia, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), have been developing strategies to reduce nutrient pollution in our waterways through the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Phase III WIPs.  MPPDC proposed a regional plan in 2018, and the state compiled and revised the regional plans to create the Virginia’s Final Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan in 2019.

To learn more about different BMPs and how to get financial assistance for installation from your local Soil and Water Conservation District, visit the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program website. For a (very) technical overview of these and other residential BMPs, visit DEQ and Virginia Tech’s Stormwater BMP Clearinghouse.

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