USGS Role in Water Quality: Assess and Explain Water-Quality Conditions and Change
Poor water-quality conditions due to excessive nutrients, sediment, and toxic contaminants continue to impact the health of fish and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Bay and its tidal tributaries, the largest ever developed by EPA. The TMDL identifies the nutrient and sediment reductions that need to be in place by 2025 to restore water quality in the Bay.
The EPA and jurisdictions in the Bay watershed have prepared Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to specify practices to reduce nutrients and sediment to meet the TMDL. Two-year milestones are also being developed to help ensure short-term progress. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping the jurisdictions carry out the WIPs and meet their milestones by having an EO outcome to apply new conservation practices on four million acres of agricultural working lands by 2025.
The EPA and Bay partners are also working to restore streams throughout the watershed. The President's EO has an outcome to improve the health of streams so that 70 percent of streams rate fair, good, or excellent by 2025.
To support implementation of the TMDL and the President's EO, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is increasing efforts to model, monitor, and explain changes in nutrients, sediment, and toxic contaminants in the watershed.
Planned USGS activities for nutrients and sediment include:
- Enhance models to improve understanding of water-quality conditions.
- Expand regional monitoring and explanation of water-quality changes.
- Monitor and assess changes in small watersheds and provide implications about the effectiveness of management practices.
The results of USGS science for nutrients and sediment are being used by EPA and jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to more effectively carry out Watershed Implementation Plans for the TMDL and monitor progress toward water-quality goals. The USDA is using the USGS information to help focus conservation practices, being funded by Farm Bill programs, into priority areas, and using monitoring to assess reductions in nutrient and sediment.
The USGS is also working with partners to address the impacts of toxic contaminants on fish and wildlife in the watershed. The information will be used to define the extent and seriousness of toxic contaminants in the Bay and its watershed and to help EPA and jurisdictions develop reduction goals and strategies.
Visit the Features page for more about USGS water-quality.