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Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It is home to more than 2,700 species of plants and animals and produces about 500 million pounds of seafood per year. The Bay's watershed covers portions of six states and Washington, D.C.

Watershed facts:

  • Area: 64,000 square miles including portions of 6 states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and Washington, D.C.
  • New York area: 6,250 square miles in 19 counties
  • Population: More than 17 million people live in the watershed
  • New York population: About 640,000 people live in New York's portion of the Bay watershed
  • Source: The Susquehanna and Chemung rivers in New York form the northern headwaters of the Bay

New York's Connection to the Chesapeake Bay

Small map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in New York
The New York portion of the Chesapeake
Bay watershed. Click for a larger map.

New York's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is made up of the Susquehanna River watershed and Chemung River watershed. Together these two watersheds form the northern headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay and cover much of New York's Southern Tier.

The Susquehanna River begins at Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York and flows 444 miles south to the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The Chemung River flows across the western portion of the Southern Tier and joins the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna River is the Bay's largest tributary. It provides nearly 50 percent of the fresh water that enters the Bay - an average of 19 million gallons of water per minute.

In total, some or all of 19 New York counties are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: Allegany, Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Livingston, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Otsego, Schoharie, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates.

Water Quality Problems and Solutions

Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment from all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed degrade the Bay's water quality. The main nutrient sources are sewage, cattle manure, inorganic fertilizer and atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Most of the sediment comes from agriculture, stream bank erosion and construction.

The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in December 2010 to address the water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay caused by excess nutrients and sediment.

A Total Maximum Daily Load defines the capacity of a waterbody to absorb a pollutant and still meet water quality standards. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL sets limits on the amount of nutrients and sediment that can enter the Bay and allow it to meet water quality goals. Because nutrients and sediment in the Bay come from all over the watershed, all six states and Washington, D.C. are involved in the work to meet the goals outlined in the TMDL.

A Plan to Improve Water Quality

All six states (and Washington, D.C.) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed developed, and are now implementing, Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP) that describe the contributions each state will make toward improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Each state also develops two-year goals, called milestones, that outline short-term steps toward the long-term objectives described in the WIPs. Quality assurance and verification procedures provide confidence in the data reported to EPA each year.

Watershed Implementation Plan

DEC worked with the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (the USC represents 16 New York and 3 Pennsylvania counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed) and Cornell University to develop New York's Watershed Implementation Plan.

Two-Year Milestones

DEC works with the Department of Agriculture & Markets, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and Cornell University to develop and implement New York's two-year milestones. Each set of milestones includes program actions in addition to implementation of specific best management practices.

Quality Assurance and Verification

The following quality assurance project plans for point and nonpoint sources of nutrients and sediment describe the procedures New York follows to collect, report and verify BMP information in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

DEC Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program Contact Information

Jacqueline Lendrum, Program Coordinator
Phone: 518-402-8086
Email Jacqueline Lendrum

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