Monday, June 3, 2019

Episode 475 (6-3-19): The Chesapeake Bay TMDL Clean-up Continues in Phase III

Click to listen to episode (5:13).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-31-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of June 3, 2019.

MUSIC – ~12 sec

That’s an excerpt of “Exploring the Rivers,” by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Va.  The title refers to 17th-Century journeys by Captain John Smith to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its river tributaries.  In the 21st Century in Virginia and the six other Bay watershed jurisdictions—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia—public officials and private citizens are on a journey to restore the Bay’s water quality and biological health.  The legal name for that journey is the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, TMDLs are a mechanism for assessing and setting limits on pollutants that prevent water bodies from meeting their legally defined designated uses, such as water supply, support of aquatic life, and recreation.  In December 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, published the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.  Made up of 92 smaller TMDLs for Bay tributaries, the Chesapeake TMDL is the largest one developed by the EPA, covering the largest estuary in North America.  Often referred to as the Bay “clean-up plan” or “pollution diet,” the Bay TMDL sets enforceable limits on the levels in Bay waters of three pollutants—nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment—arising [largely] from agriculture, stormwater runoff, and wastewater treatment.  The Bay TMDL regulatory approach followed voluntary efforts by Bay jurisdictions since 1983 that had fallen short of reaching restoration goals.

The Bay TMDL calls on the seven jurisdictions to have in place by 2025 the practices needed to meet pollutant limits in the Bay and its tributaries.  To achieve this, Bay jurisdictions were required to submit three phases of Watershed Implementation Plans.  Phase III is happening now, and it requires the seven jurisdictions to identify progress they’ve made so far in meeting pollutant reductions, and to specify how they plan to accomplish further reductions needed to meet the TMDL’s 2025 limits.  In Virginia, that work included dozens of public meetings between January 2017 and May 2019.  In April 2019, the jurisdictions submitted their draft Phase III plans to the EPA. The public comment period on those drafts ends June 7, and the final plans are due to the EPA by August 9.

Since the first Bay Agreement in 1983, among Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, DC, and the EPA, Bay watershed partners have been trying, as that agreement states, to “fully address the extent, complexity, and sources of pollutants entering the Bay.”  That’s a long, continuing journey of dialogue, science, compromise, effort, and expense.

Thanks to Timothy Seaman for permission to use this week’s opening music.  We close with about 25 seconds of another musical selection, this one to recognize the long run needed for restoring the Chesapeake Bay.  Here’s part of “The Race,” by the Harrisonburg, Va.-based band, The Steel Wheels.

MUSIC - ~25 sec


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode is a follow-up to Episode 115, 6/18/12, on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans.

“Exploring the Rivers,” on the 2006 album “Jamestown: On the Edge of a Vast Continent,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Records, used with permission.  This music was also used in Virginia Water Radio episodes 140, 12-10-12; 334, 9-19-16; and 374, 6-26-17.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at

“The Race,” on the 2013 album “No More Rain,” is copyright by The Steel Wheels, used with permission.  This music was also used in Virginia Water Radio Episode 460, 2-18-19.  More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Map from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL),” accessed online at, 6/3/19.

Satellite photo of the Chesapeake Bay. Photo from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) GSFC Landsat/LDCM EPO Team, accessed online at, 6/3/19.

Satellite photo showing a plume of sediment (brown color to right center of photo) flowing into the Chesapeake Bay in September 2011 as a result of Tropical Storm Lee. Photo from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), accessed at the Chesapeake Bay Program, online at, 6/3/19.


The following information is quoted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Frequent Questions about the Chesapeake Bay TMDL,” online at, accessed on 6/3/19.

What is a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)?

“A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is a “pollution diet” that identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant a waterway can receive and still meet applicable water quality standards. A TMDL is the sum of wasteload allocations for point sources, load allocations for nonpoint sources, and a margin of safety to account for uncertainty. Point sources include sewage treatment plants, stormwater discharges, industrial discharges, etc. Nonpoint sources include pollutants carried by rainfall runoff from forests, agricultural lands, atmospheric deposition, abandoned land mines, etc.”

What makes the Chesapeake Bay TMDL unique?

“More than 40,000 TMDLs have been completed across the United States, but the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is the largest and most complex thus far. It is designed to achieve significant reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment throughout a 64,000-square-mile watershed that includes seven jurisdictions. Bay jurisdictions include Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

“The TMDL is actually a combination of 276 nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment TMDLs for 92 individual Chesapeake Bay tidal segments. Pollution limits are designed to meet applicable water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity, underwater Bay grasses and chlorophyll-a, an indicator of algae levels.

“The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is unique because of the extensive measures EPA and the jurisdictions adopted to ensure accountability for reducing pollution and meeting target progress dates. The TMDL will be implemented using an accountability framework that guides restoration efforts using four elements. These elements include Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), two-year milestones, EPA’s tracking and assessment of restoration progress and specific federal actions if jurisdictions do not meet their commitments.

“This accountability framework helps demonstrate the reasonable assurance provisions of the Bay TMDL pursuant to both the Clean Water Act and Chesapeake Bay Executive Order 13508. However, the accountability framework is not part of the Bay TMDL itself.”

Why was a TMDL established for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries?

“Despite extensive restoration efforts over 25 years, the Bay TMDL was prompted by continued poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. The TMDL is required under the 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.”

What are the pollutants of concern and what are the sources of pollution?
“Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment are the pollutants of concern. High levels of these pollutants enter the water from various sources, including agricultural operations, urban runoff, wastewater facilities, septic systems, air pollution, and other sources.”

What are the pollutant limits set by the Chesapeake Bay TMDL?

“The Bay TMDL set annual Bay watershed limits of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus, and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment. That represents, based on 2009 levels, a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. These limits are divided by state and river basin based on state-of-the-art modeling tools, extensive monitoring data, peer-reviewed science, and close interaction with Bay partners.”

When was the Bay TMDL established and when does the TMDL anticipate the Bay will be restored?

“The Bay TMDL was established on December 29, 2010. 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. EPA expects practices in place by 2017 to meet 60 percent of the necessary 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. There will be gradual and continued improvement in water quality as controls are put in place around the watershed.”

There have been many TMDLs written in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  How do they relate to this Bay TMDL?

“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/or sediment, the more stringent of the TMDLs will apply.”

How large is the Chesapeake Bay? How big is the watershed that drains into it? How many people live within the watershed?

“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 18 million people live in the watershed, and the population is growing by more than 130,000 each year.”


Used for Audio

Karl Blankenship, Highlights of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed implementation plans, and New state plans reveal tough path to 2025 cleanup goals, both in Bay Journal, May 2019.

Chesapeake Bay Program, online at See particularly “Chesapeake Bay Agreement 1983,” online at; and “Accomplishments,” online at, for information on Bay Agreements in 1987, 2000, and 2014.

Maryland Department of the Environment, “Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP): Development,” online at

NOAA/National Ocean Service, “Estuaries,” online at; and “Where is the largest estuary in the United States?” online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL),” online at  See particularly “Chesapeake Bay TMDL Fact Sheet,” online at; and “Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plans,” online at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Chesapeake Bay TMDL,” online at; and “Virginia’s Draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan,” online at The latter Web address is the online site for submitting comments on Virginia’s Draft Phase III plan, through June 7, 2019.

Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, online at  (A May 31, 2019, search at that Web site for “Chesapeake Bay Phase III” yielded 62 meeting entries between January 2017 and May 2019.)

For More Information on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL in Other Bay Jurisdictions

Delaware Division of Watershed Stewardship, “Delaware’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan,” online at

District of Columbia Department of Energy & Environment, “District of Columbia Chesapeake Bay Program,” online at

Maryland Department of the Environment, “Chesapeake Cleanup Center,” online at

New York Department of Environmental Conservation, “Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program,” online at

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Plan,” online at

West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Program, online at

For More Information about the Chesapeake Bay Generally

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2006.

National Park Service, “Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail, online at; and “Chesapeake Gateways,” online at

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, “Chesapeake Bay Report Card,” online at

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, “Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve,” online at; and “Virginia Estuarine and Coastal Observing System,” online at

John Page Williams, Jr., Chesapeake Almanac, Tidewater Publishers, Centreville, Md., 1993.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes on the Chesapeake Bay.

Episode 115, 6/18/12 – on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans.
Episode 128, 9/17/12 – on Atlantic Menhaden.
Episode 140, 12/10/12 – on Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay.
Episode 171, 7/22/13 – on plankton.
Episode 279, 8/24/15 and Episode 280, 9/7/15 – on oysters, nitrogen, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Episode 305, 2/29/16 – on the Bay Barometer and other tools for measuring the Bay’s status.
Episode 325, 7/18/16 – on submerged aquatic vegetation.
Episode 326, 7/25/16 – on estuaries generally.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.10 – impacts on survival of species, including effects of human activity, fire, flood, disease, and erosion on organisms.
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decisions, hazard mitigation, cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
3.6 – ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 – ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.1 – understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science, including current applications to reinforce science concepts.
LS.10 – changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
ES.6 – renewable vs. non-renewable resources (including energy resources).
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Grades K-3 Economics Theme
3.8 – understanding of cultures and of how natural, human, and capital resources are used for goods and services.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – major land and water features of North America, including their importance in history.
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.

Civics and Economics Course

CE.1 – skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision-making, and responsible citizenship.
CE.6 – government at the national level.
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.8 – government at the local level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.1 – skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision-making, and responsible citizenship.
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 – how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.4 – types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.
WG.18 – cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.1 – skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision-making, and responsible citizenship.
GOVT.7 – national government organization and powers.
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.