The Chesapeake Bay: Water Overview


Background:  Water Ecosystem  

  • The Chesapeake is the largest estuary system in the United States.  According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the bay has historically produced approximately 500 million pounds of food per year, but that is changing due to development and agricultural nonpoint source pollution.
  • More than 16.6 million people call this area of the U.S. their home.
  • The watershed includes six states and the District of Columbia: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia.
  •  Everything that is carried out on land has a large effect on the vigor of the bay .

Agriculture in the Chesapeake


  • 25% of the Watershed is farmland, the area is used for growing grains, vegetables etc.
  • Current farming practices damages topsoil which erodes into the river system.
    • Intense Farming Practices:
      • Monocultures
      • No crop-rotation
      • Weed free- fields
      • Row Crops leave soil exposed
  • A large threat to the watershed is the increased level of pollutants in the industrialized agriculture. According to the USGS, 48% of nitrogen in ground water flows into the bay’s stream system.

  • Nitrogen and Phosphorus fertilizers feed into the bay
  • Along with increased levels of nitrogen are high phosphorus levels due to detergents, pesticides and fertilizers
  •  Excess algae from the surplus of nutrients cause an ecological and economic disparity. The oxygen level for bay aquatic life to survive must be at 5.0 mg/L or a greater, but decomposing bacterium consumes the excess algae and the remaining oxygen on the seafloor.
  • Due to the fast-pace agricultural system, 3600 aquatic species have to re-acclimate, move, or die.

Drinking Water

  • Over the past several decades there have been several cases of under par drinking water within the bay area. In Delaware, the Columbia, Cheswold and Piney Point aquifers supply the drinking water for the surrounding communities. According to a 2008 government report, 27, 799 people in Delaware were at bacterial risk due to the pesticide run-off from the croplands.
  • Virginia has been accused of having chloride and fluoride levels exceeding potable levels in the coastal plain, and the Karst Terrain has elevated nitrate levels due to the agricultural activity and sewage disposal.
  • According to the Delaware Health and Social Services division of Public Health, there were 47 violations in 2008 for water quality. (In 2005, there were 20 violations.) 21 of these violations were from nitrates, effecting more than 2,500 people.  In 2008, more than 27,000 people were at bacterial risk.
  • Baltimore in the 1980’s had very high levels of algae blooms, so high that there was an odor to the tap water. Since then, Maryland has established a monetary value for cleaning up the bay. The estimate was between $10-100 million in 1984 dollars. There were efforts to establish a monetary value for cleaning up the bay. The estimate was between $10-100 million in 1984 dollars.

Contingent Valuation: & Willingness to Pay

  • In 2003, The University of Maryland created a survey for Maryland registered boat owners. 
    -The boats ranked their perception of the water quality on a scale of 1-5.
    - The median willingness-to-pay for a one step improvement of water quality was  $7.50 / year. 
    - 38% expressed zerowillingness-to-pay.
    - The survey concluded that Maryland boaters are willingness-to-pay approximately $7.3 million/ year  Present Value: 5% discount rate is a %146 million.

Manufacturing in the Chesapeake


  • The menhaden fish are being over-harvested; 376 million lbs are harvested annually for there highly marketed fish oils (omega-3 vitamins. )
  • The menhaden fish are filters against algae; with the increase of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the accelerated agricultural industry, and the decrease in menhaden fish for marketing, the bay is collapsing. Aquatic animals have to re-adjust on the food chain.
  • Strip bass can no longer feed off of the Menhaden are now relying on oysters, which is one of the bay’s largest fames. 
  • Tragedy of the Commons:
    • The Bay is an unregulated market. This provides little incentive to protect the marine life/ resources from over harvesting. Prices will increase based on supply and demand due to the resources becoming scarcer. Fishermen have the incentive to harvest for the last fish, the most valuable fish. A market fails to function efficiently when a price does not reflect the entire cost of benefit of a product. (Hardin, Chap 4).

Phosphate Ban:

  • In the mid-80’s there was a phosphate ban; The Environmental Affairs committee proposed several enactments to aid in the reduction of phosphate in the bay-area such as a 11-13% reduction of phosphorous loadings in the watershed and efficient water-sewage plants for phosphorous removal. The opposition consisted of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and large food corporations and detergent corporations such as Giant Foods and the Soap and Detergent Association.
  • The opposition argues that the decrease would have very little water quality benefits, and consumers would end up paying a lot more for eco-friendly detergents.  The city of Baltimore argued that the phosphate ban would affect more than 1,000 industrial jobs.
  • In 1994 phosphate was banned from detergents.