State of the Beach/State Reports/MD/Water Quality

From Beachapedia

Home Beach Indicators Methodology Findings Beach Manifesto State Reports Chapters Perspectives Model Programs Bad and Rad Conclusion

Maryland Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access88
Water Quality77
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures8 4
Beach Ecology2-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}

Water Quality Monitoring Program

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. In recent years, the total funding available for BEACH Act grants has been about $9.5 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there was also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. Again, it was restored at the last minute as part of a Continuing Resolution. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. Unfortunately, in 2017 the situation is even more dire. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. Maryland was eligible for a $255,000 grant in fiscal year 2016.

As a result of the BEACH Act and its funding, Maryland has:

  • Adopted better indicators (E. coli and enterococcus)
  • Increased sanitary surveys and pollution source identification
  • Increased monitoring and provided a central state laboratory for sample analysis
  • Been able to provide a consistent public notification message (advisories vs. closures)
  • A Beach Coordinator to ensure consistent implementation across local jurisdictions
  • Established a website to serve as a one stop shop for daily status at all Maryland Beaches, containing:
  • Updated notification information
  • Updated rainfall information
  • Tips for healthy beachgoer practices and keeping Maryland’s beaches clean
  • Useful water quality links
  • State and county personnel contact information

They also utilize publicly available mapping tools on the internet to provide near real time information on beach status, which allows citizens to make better health decisions and plan their water contact recreation activities intelligently. Providing site-specific details on water quality conditions not only improves public health protection but also motivates citizens to be more engaged in local water quality issues and become part of the solution. This helps the State and ultimately EPA meet larger Clean Water Act “swimmable” goals.

Maryland Beaches Program also works with National Weather Service to collect precipitation data at beaches. Rain events can flush contaminants into recreational waters and this information help citizens and local health departments better understand which beaches are affected by significant rain events. Loss of BEACH Act funding would affect the website which shares this important information.

Because of improved monitoring provided by federal funding, there is increased identification of bacteria sources. This has allowed Maryland to step up pollution remediation activities at local beaches resulting in water quality improvements. Some examples include changes to a storm water system at North Beach in Calvert County; improvements to infrastructure along shoreline at Public Landing Beach in Worcester County; and installation of a pet waste station at Betterton Beach in Kent County.

If BEACH Act Funding were cut, some possible repercussions might include:

  • Reduced monitoring
  • Inconsistent notification
  • Less surveying for sources of enteric bacteria
  • Less awareness of water quality
  • State Laboratory less able to handle water quality samples
  • Loss of state support and website

Much of the following discussion is taken from NRDC's report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."

NRDC ranked Maryland 4th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 4% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.

Maryland has coastal beaches lining 19 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Beach water quality is monitored through a program administered by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Beachgoers can learn about beach advisories and closings on the Maryland Healthy Beaches website.

Water Quality Challenges and Improvements

New Efforts to Reduce Stormwater

When stormwater runs over materials like fertilizer, oil, gas, and bare soil, it can become contaminated and cause erosion. That runoff carries pollution and leads to stream and groundwater contamination. To reduce stormwater pollution, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill (H.B. 987) in 2012 requiring the city of Baltimore and the nine largest counties (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George's) to adopt and implement a stormwater fee and dedicated fund by July 1, 2013. The funds will help to construct and maintain pollution controls and correct drainage and flooding issues created by stormwater.

Digital Data Acquisition and Processing

The MDE is currently working with Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and local health departments to beta test a digital data acquisition and processing system that would facilitate water quality sample collection, sample testing, and data generation/transfer.

Enterococcus in Beach Sand, Beachwater, and Ocean Sediment

Enterococcus is a fecal indicator bacterium used to determine whether fecal contamination of beachwater may have occurred. Beach managers throughout the country have wondered if enterococcus is growing in beach sand and in ocean sediments and making its way via those routes into beachwater at some locations. If so, enterococcus levels may not be reliable indicators of fecal contamination. In 2010, Maryland took part in a study to investigate the relationship among enterococcus levels in beach sand, ocean sediment, and beachwater. Researchers determined that the concentrations of enterococcus in sand and sediment were not related to its concentration in beachwater, and that while enterococcus can survive in beach sand and sediment, regrowth of enterococci did not occur under laboratory conditions in either sand or sediment from these beaches. The conclusion, at least for the beaches involved in the research, is that enterococcus is not replicating itself in the beach sand and ocean sediment and contaminating the beachwater in that fashion.

Cleaning Up Baltimore's Harbor

Trash-clogged Baltimore Harbor might actually be swimmable in six years, thanks to what is essentially a giant sun-charged hamster wheel. The Water Wheel Trash Inceptor (as it’s officially called) uses power from 30 solar panels to spin in the harbor. The wheel can scoop up an impressive 50,000 pounds of garbage every day. More on this.


Sampling Practices

The monitoring season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Sampling and notification activities are delegated to local health departments. Current guidance and regulation is consistent across the board and applies to all coastal beaches in Maryland. Samples are taken in knee-deep water, one foot below the water's surface. Priority for monitoring Maryland's coastal beaches is based on the level of bather use, historical water quality, proximity of potential or actual pollution sources, human and animal fecal contamination sources, beach structure, ecological factors, and any other factors that may contribute to beachwater quality. Tier 1 beaches (the highest-priority beaches) are assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week, medium-priority beaches (Tier 2) are assigned a monitoring frequency of twice a month, and the lowest-priority beaches (Tier 3) once a month. Worcester County is the only county with open ocean beaches. The Worcester County Health District has opted to monitor Ocean City beaches (6 locations) twice a week. Beaches in Maryland are defined in part by use; those that are not used are not considered to be beaches and are removed from the beach list.

Maryland's beach monitoring program recommends that local health departments sample the following day when a beach is closed or placed under advisory, but limited staffing and resources at some beaches sometimes prevents this. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found.

Closings and Advisories

Standards and Procedures

In Maryland, closings are issued for known pollution events or other unsafe conditions, and advisories are issued when bacteria standards are exceeded and no known pollution source is present. All counties notify the public when a beach is closed or an advisory is issued by posting updates on the Maryland Healthy Beaches website, posting signs at the beach, operating phone hotlines, sending press releases, and/or emailing interested parties.

Beach notifications are communicated to the public via the Maryland Healthy Beaches website which includes a Google Earth application that provides color-coded status reports on beaches throughout the state and daily updates on rainfall at individual beaches. The public is advised to avoid swimming following significant rain events because potentially harmful bacteria concentrations may rise after heavy rains due to polluted storm water runoff. The Maryland Healthy Beaches website also provides some tips to prevent water-related illnesses at Maryland’s beaches.

Maryland applies a 30-day geometric mean standard of 35 cfu/100 ml and a daily maximum standard for enterococcus of 104 cfu/100 ml at Tier 1 and Tier 2 coastal beaches. The daily maximum standard at Tier 3 beaches is 158 cfu/100 ml. Three samples are taken per sampling event, and the average of the sampling results is used to determine whether the daily standard is being met. The average of three samples taken per sampling event is used to find five evenly spaced values over a 30-day period that are used to calculate the geometric mean.

If the local health department determines that valid sampling results indicate an exceedance of either the single-sample maximum or geometric mean standard, a notification can be issued without resampling. If the validity of a sample is in doubt, local health departments may resample before issuing an advisory.

Maryland does not have preemptive rainfall advisory standards, but rainfall information for each beach is provided on the Maryland Healthy Beaches website. The public is generally advised to avoid swimming after a significant rain event because polluted stormwater runoff can carry disease-causing organisms to the beach.

If a known pollution source exists, such as a combined sewer overflow, failing sewer infrastructure, or wastewater treatment discharge, the county must close the beach. Maryland is one of the few states that require sewage treatment plants to report all sewage spills in a timely manner to local health departments and the state department of the environment. The local health department or MDE may also issue an immediate closing if there is any other type of dangerous contaminant or condition.

Single sample maximum allowable bacterial densities for subcategories of the recreational use are as follows:

Designated (Permitted) Beach Areas Moderate Full Body Contact Recreation Lightly Used Full Body Contact Recreation Infrequently Used Full Body Contact Recreation
E. coli (Freshwater only) 235 298 410 576
Freshwater Enterococcus 61 78 107 151
Saltwater Enterococcus 104 158 275 500

Secondary contact, calculated per EPA recommendation is five times the geometric mean criterion: E. coli = 630; FW enterococcus = 165; SW enterococcus = 175.

For each of the five subcategories of recreational use (permitted beaches, moderate, light, infrequent and secondary contact) the appropriate indicator will be specified for each waterbody.

NOTE: New Recreational Water Quality Criteria issued by the USEPA in November 2012 no longer supports different allowable bacteria densities for waters with different use levels. There will only be one set of standards for all recreational waters.

Most of the water quality monitoring in Maryland occurs in the Chesapeake Bay, not on the open ocean coast near Ocean City and Assateague Island, where the surf is. At the Atlantic Coast locations monitoring generally occurs once a week every five blocks. There are 8 sampling sites in Ocean City and 7 on Assateague Island. Public Landing has 5 sampling sites but only 2 are in designated swimming areas.

At Assateague Island, swimming advisories are posted if concentrations of enterococci exceed 104 per 100 milliliters of water.[1] Assateague Island beaches in Maryland that are routinely monitored are:

  • Concession Stand
  • F Loop Campground
  • State Park South Boundary
  • Ranger Station
  • Oceanside Campground
  • South Beach

The state operates a Recreational Water Quality hotline from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which includes weekly sample results and notification of waterway closings. For information call: (410) 632-1200, x166 or 167. The hotline number for Assateague Island National Seashore is (410) 641-1443. For information in Anne Arundel County call (410) 222-7999.

Water quality monitoring information and data (Memorial Day to Labor Day) for beaches in Worcester County (Ocean City and Assateague Island) can be found here.

MDE works closely and cooperatively with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to monitor, track, report, and advise the public about harmful algal blooms. DNR maintains a website with harmful algal bloom monitoring data. A hotline is available for the public to report algae blooms, and the public is notified swiftly through local health departments via signs, press releases, and national, state, and local websites anytime an algae bloom poses a risk to swimmers or beachgoers.

A description of the water quality monitoring program in Maryland's coastal bays can be found at:

The Anne Arundel County Department of Health provides water sampling results for the beaches at Sandy Point State Park and about 100 county community beaches on its website and Water Quality Phone Line 410-222-7999.

Maryland's Surf Your Watershed project is a cooperative effort involving the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources to "catalog" important environmental, socioeconomic, and programmatic information on a watershed basis. The project provides a database in which natural resources and biological information (including hydrologic, hydraulic, and water quality); bibliographic references; contacts, programs and activity descriptions; and other data can coexist and be easily obtained for watershed management, planning, and natural resource conservation programs and projects. For instance, it identifies a broad range of indicators on a regional/watershed basis. Unfortunately, little information on ocean/recreational water quality appears to be readily available.

Baltimore County announced in August 2012 that they were set to resume testing certain recreational waters for harmful bacteria, two years after budget cuts ended the monitoring. The county is mandated by the federal government to sample water at public bathing beaches — those with lifeguards and shower and restroom facilities. Now, it plans to expand testing to recreational waters that are not required to be monitored, including Back River, Bear Creek, Bird River and parts of the Patapsco River. The county had stopped sampling waters that weren't required to be tested in 2010 because of budget constraints. County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins appealed to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to find funds to resume additional testing. The testing will cost about $20,000 a year. The additional sampling was scheduled to start by the end of August 2012 and conclude in November 2012.

Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper has a Bacteria Monitoring website which presents the results of bacteria testing of the Middle Branch and Northwest Branch ("Baltimore Harbor") of the tidal Patapsco River between the months of April and November each year. The program monitors 30 sampling sites biweeky for Enterococci bacteria, a recognized indicator of human sewage contamination and public health risk from sewage-derived pathogens.

Another source of information on water quality is the website of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has carried out many water quality research projects in Maryland.

Water Quality Contacts

Matthew Rowe
Environ. Assessment and Standards
Maryland Department of the Environment

Heather Merritt
Shellfish Division/Beaches Division
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21230
Tel: 410-537-3618

Kathy Brohawn
Maryland Department of the Environment

John G. Backus
Maryland Department of the Environment
(410) 537-3965

Cindy Serman, R.S.
Worcester County Environmental Programs
(410) 632-1200, x1166

Beach Closures

NRDC reported:

In 2013, Maryland reported 68 coastal beaches, all of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 4% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Sandy Point State Park South Beach in Anne Arundel County (13%), Mayo Beach Park in Anne Arundel County (7%), North Beach in Calvert County (7%), and Cedar Cove Community Beach in St. Mary's County (7%).

The above numbers can be a bit deceptive when considering water quality on the open ocean. As noted above, most of the water quality monitoring (and water quality problems) in Maryland occurs in the Chesapeake Bay and not on the open ocean coast near Ocean City and Assateague Island (Worcester County), where the surf is.

For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.

MDE reported in their Beach Season – 2013 Annual Report:

"In 2013, Maryland Beaches were open and unrestricted 98.7% of the time. Sewage spills accounted for zero percent of the beach days under notification, with the whole of the advisories being due to water quality criteria exceedances (1.3% of beach days under notification)."

In June 2011 an article was posted at titled Ocean water is constantly tested that explained the beach water testing program for ocean beaches in Delaware and Maryland. In this case, "constantly" means once or twice per week from Memorial Day to late September.

In 1997, Maryland closed several rivers tributary to the Chesapeake Bay where Pfiesteria piscicida was found in high concentrations. This toxic organism contains a neurotoxin that may affect fishermen, swimmers, and other recreational users of nearshore marine and riverine waters. Exposure to Pfiesteria piscicida blooms may result in short-term memory loss, dizziness, muscular aches, peripheral tingling, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Several leading scientists believe that the number and frequency of toxic blooms are increasing around the world and that these blooms may be attributed in part to coastal pollution. In 2003, no state-reported closings or advisories were issued due to high Pfiesteria piscicida levels.[2]

On June 6, 2002 the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee to the Coastal Bays, hosted an Environmental Indicators Workshop at Salisbury University in which over 35 scientists attended. The goal of the workshop was to review and finalize a set of environmental indicators to be monitored in the Maryland Coastal Bays. These indicators will provide information on the overall direction, efficacy, and priority of measures being implemented to protect, manage, restore and enhance Maryland's Coastal Bays through the MD Coastal Bays National Estuary Program. The three major categories for indicating progress were water quality, aquatic habitat, and terrestrial landscape.

In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for Maryland's 2012 Swimming Season. EPA no longer publishes this report.

The United States Geological Survey maintains a website, USGS Water Resources of Maryland. This site is a valuable source of information including current projects, online reports, publications, and maps, real-time water conditions and educational outreach material for teachers and students.

Maryland Sea Grant is an additional source of information on water quality.

Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls

Information on the location or number of storm drains in Maryland was not readily available. According to MDNR staff, storm drains and flood control channel outlets are permanently posted.

Sewage Infrastructure, Treatment and Disposal

Ocean City has a wastewater treatment plant that performs secondary treatment and disinfection. The plant discharges the effluent into the ocean through an outfall pipe. The Ocean City outfall system includes an outfall pumping station located at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, approximately 700 feet of ductile iron pipe from the Wastewater Treatment Plant to the beach area, an air release valve vault just short of the beach and 4,600 feet of pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe discharging to a diffuser section which is in water approximately 30 feet deep. The 1,000 foot long diffuser section has 50 4-inch risers which extend approximately 7 feet above the center line of the pipe, ending in 4 inch by 4 inch tees that are intended to discharge effluent parallel to the beach. The effluent is diluted to 1 part effluent to 200 parts water.

Up-to-date reported combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) are available here.

According to MDE, there are no combined storm water sewers impacting any of Maryland’s beaches. Maryland has regulatory guidelines to reduce the risk of overflows from sewage pumping stations that are near beaches, including: telemetering alarm systems, standby pump units, stationary auxiliary power sources, a pump-around connection coupling facility, and a minimum two hour holding space on site. In addition, Maryland is one of the few states that require timely reporting to local health departments and MDE any time there is a sewage spill; this includes a follow-up status report on the problem and corrective actions taken within five days of the spill.

Effective January 1, 2010, Maryland Department of the Environment prioritizes funding for septic system upgrades toward those systems that pose the greatest threat to clean waterways and drinking water. MDE also establish an income-based sliding scale to ensure septic upgrade grants are fairly distributed to homeowners with the most need. There are approximately 420,000 septic systems in Maryland. Of these, 52,000 systems are located within the “Critical Area,” land within 1,000 feet of tidal waters that is vital for water quality and wildlife habitat.

Sewage overflows in Baltimore surged more than 54,400 percent in 2003, according to city Department of Public Works data, 20 months after Baltimore signed a $940 million federal consent decree mandating a 14-year overhaul of its sewage system. Almost 130 million gallons of unauthorized raw sewage mixed with storm water spilled into Baltimore streams, ditches and basements through October 2003. That's up from around 240,000 gallons in 2002. Raw sewage overflows threaten human and environmental health, and spills from sewage systems designed to be separate from storm water, called sanitary sewage overflows, are a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Baltimore was well aware of the problems with its system, one of the oldest of its kind in the nation. It settled a lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April 2002. A Justice Department statement announcing the settlement said Baltimore suffered frequent overflows "caused by excessive use, limited sewer capacity and infiltration of water into the system caused by years of neglect."

Most of the 2003 increase, 124 million gallons, occurred during two events at Herring Run blamed on weather-related damage during a year of record-breaking precipitation. A pipe failure in February allowed an estimated 36 million gallons of raw sewage to ooze into the stream, and a broken manhole released 88 million gallons from mid-June to early July. In June, Herring Run waters turned gray and emitted a foul odor as toilet paper, condoms, and feminine hygiene products could be seen floating by, said Darin Crew, "stream team" program manager for the Herring Run Watershed Association, who witnessed the spill first hand. Crew's association is paid by the city to test water quality by sewage lines, and he took samples during the spill.

The magnitude of Herring Run's spills were not publicly known until inquiries from Capital News Service, which analyzed sewage overflow report data through October compiled by Maryland's Department of the Environment. MDE's data under-reported the spills by 85 million gallons. When contacted, the city's Public Works Department discovered an error in 2002 statewide data. More than 26 million gallons of drinking water spills had been mistakenly reported as sewage spills. The more glaring error arose in the 2003 data, where the second, 88-million-gallon, Herring Run spill was originally reported as only 3 million gallons.

The city's second large spill occurred after downed trees and debris from a heavy rainstorm snapped off a manhole, and the pipe promptly filled with rocks, some weighing more than 200 pounds. It took more than 10 days to clear the pipe, and another flare-up in early July brought the overall amount of sewage spilled to staggering proportions.

The city, as part of its 14-year upgrade, is lining the insides of its major pipes with plastic and will inspect the entire system over the next 10 years. Yet the city does not fully know the extent of overflows because they are often hidden and generally under-reported, said activist Guy Hollyday, city resident and volunteer chairman of the Baltimore Sanitary Sewer Oversight Coalition. "The under-reporting is something that really ticks me off," he said.[3]

An update on Baltimore's sewage spill problems was provided in an article Pardon Our Filth by Van Smith that appeared in the December 19, 2007 edition of Another article Sewage leaks foul Baltimore streams, harbor appeared in the Baltimore Sun in December 2011. Despite all that bad news, there is a plan that aims to make the harbor swimmable by 2020.

The federal EPA sued the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in November 2004 for the discharge of millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into Maryland waterways. The government asked the court to issue an immediate injunction directing the WSSC to correct the problem and develop measures to prevent future overflows. According to the NRDC, Maryland DEP records show that the WSSC has 445 overflows between January 2001 and July of 2004. The agency says it plans to spend $150 million over six years to upgrade its infrastructure and analyze overflow patterns. By comparison, it spent $40 million on those same programs from 1996 to 2001.

Three military bases in Maryland have together spilled nearly 20 million gallons of sewage into Chesapeake Bay tributaries over the past decade, raising further questions about the military's refusal to pay the state's "flush tax," aimed at cleaning up the bay.

An often overwhelmed World War II-era waste treatment plant at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County has flushed 5.4 million gallons of partly treated sewage into the Bush River over the past two years, according to state records. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Charles County has received two federal violation notices in the past six years, one for washing coal ash from a power plant into the Potomac River and another for spilling more than 14 million gallons of sewage, records show. And Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County has spilled more than 200,000 gallons of raw sewage over the past four years into the Little Patuxent River and nearby waterways, records show.

In the good news category, Maryland recently upgraded the Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant. The upgrade is anticipated to dramatically reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients that the treatment plant dumps into the Chester River which flows directly to the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to the Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade, additional plant upgrades are scheduled to take place at all 66 major treatment plants in the state.

The need for municipal sewage treatment in Accomack County was highlighted in a report released in October 2007 that documented evidence of groundwater pollution from failing septic systems and lagoons, and by 26 areas along the shorelines of the bayside and seaside that were closed to shellfish harvest because of contamination. There are 64 direct polluters of surface waters, 495 indirect contributors and 140 potential polluters in the county, according to Virginia Department of Health figures cited. Only three of 23 soil types found in Accomack are suitable for underground septic -- leaving much of the bayside and the lower seaside not suited for the traditional septic systems that occupy them.

The report recommends that the county ask the health department to declare the situation a public health emergency, both to raise public awareness and to increase Accomack's eligibility for government funding for sewage treatment. The findings were reported in a wastewater action plan written by the engineering firm McKim and Creed, which was hired in May 2007 to investigate alternatives for addressing county wastewater needs. Two weeks prior to release of the McKim and Creed report, an official from a separate firm studying Chincoteague's wastewater needs said years of contamination from septic tanks there have polluted waterways and necessitated a wastewater treatment process.


There is information on Maryland's nonpoint source management program and Maryland's Stormwater Management Program.

This nonpoint source management program website contains a very nice description of Maryland's nonpoint source pollution prevention programs, with links to multiple other sites with descriptions of programs for agricultural activities, forestry, urban areas, and watersheds. Also here is a description of Maryland's coastal nonpoint source pollution control program, which specifically addresses septic systems and "clean marinas." Maryland has approximately 400,000 septic systems today (approximately 1 in 5 households), with potential for significantly more. With few exceptions, the same septic system technology is in use today that was used 50 years ago. These systems are not designed to remove nutrient pollution, which is the key type of pollution targeted by the Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort. There is also a link to the NPS Program's 2011 Annual Report.

Officials at Maryland’s cabinet agencies responsible for the environment announced in December 2004 the transfer of a grant program and its associated employees from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over to the Department of the Environment (MDE). This administrative action calls for transferring a division of the Watershed Service Unit of DNR to the Technical and Regulatory Services Administration of MDE. The transfer affects 13 positions within Maryland’s Nonpoint Source Management Program, which seeks to reduce nonpoint source pollution impacts to waterways. Nonpoint source pollution originates from various sources including agricultural runoff, deforestation, construction and urban activities. The program provides not only financial assistance, but also policy, technical and educational resources related to nonpoint source pollution. Maryland provides reimbursable grants to state and local governments, non-profit organizations, and institutions of higher learning to implement nonpoint source pollution control projects. In fiscal year 2005, Maryland received over $2.5 million in federal funding for this program. Keys to the program's success rely on creating open partnerships with other nonpoint source entities and developing long and short-term goals that will advance the program in the nonpoint source pollution control arena.

MDE was instrumental in the passage of the Stormwater Management Act of 2007, which became effective on October 1, 2007. Prior to the 2007 changes, environmental site design was encouraged through a series of credits found in Maryland’s Stormwater Design Manual. The 2007 changes now require that environmental site design through the use of nonstructural BMPs and other better site design techniques, such as low impact development design, be implemented to the maximum extent practicable. MDE is in the process of addressing the requirements of the Act, including changes to regulations, the 2000 Maryland Stormwater Design Manual, and other guidance materials.

The Center for Watershed Protection is adapting the Watershed Treatment Model — which tracks pollutant sources and the effectiveness of various watershed treatment options — to the geography of the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains. They also are developing case studies of communities that have successfully implemented LID practices. Investigators will work with local communities to refine these tools, evaluate current regulations and zoning, and identify barriers and opportunities to change. The research team will use existing networks developed by the Center and NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) to collaborate with communities and disseminate the tools to the 15 states that encompass these coastal plains.

In October 2010 Ocean City officials announced that more than 15 miles of underground stormwater pipes will have to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $6 million. Ocean City's stormwater collection system consists of more than 1,800 storm drains, 83,000 linear feet of pipe and more than 300 storm drain outfalls. They rely on gravity to get water from a drain to an outfall. Most storm drain systems in Ocean City were installed between 1960 and 1980 by developers using corrugated metal pipes. But the project will include more than just pipe replacement. The town is looking for more opportunities for stormwater management by recreating natural hydrology. They want to reduce the flow to the city storm drain systems by putting in pockets of microwetlands to keep the water from flowing out. Pilot projects have included pervious pavers used for town projects, storm drain and outfall retrofits, wetland enhancement and catch basin inserts, all paid for by grants and developer mitigation fees.

Maryland Rural Legacy Program's goal is to protect the best remaining landscapes in Maryland: rich farmland, extensive forests, threatened habitats and cultural resources; rural areas that, if left unfragmented by urban encroachment, may continue to be economically viable. Greenbelts of forested land and open spaces surrounding populated areas protect Maryland’s water quality by reducing pollution run-off into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. These same greenbelts provide habitat critical to the survival of many native plants and animals. The Program seeks to conserve up to 200,000 acres in Maryland by the year 2011. To do this, the State Legislature has earmarked $71.3 million for the acquisition of lands and the purchase of voluntary conservation easements over the next five years.

Clean Marinas

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Clean Marina Initiative program offers marina operators and boaters the opportunity to participate in efforts to protect Maryland's natural resources. It is hoped that the collective effort of individuals and businesses will improve the quality of Maryland's waters from Deep Creek Lake, to the Chesapeake Bay, to the coastal bays. The Maryland Clean Marina Initiative recognizes and promotes marinas, boatyards and yacht clubs that meet or exceed legal requirements and adopt pollution prevention practices. Over 80 marina have voluntarily adopted measures to control pollution associated with marina operations and stand as examples of the conservation ethic: individual responsibility for healthy land and water.

Water Quality Contact (Runoff and Outfalls)

Carrie Decker
Watershed Restoration Specialist

Gwynne Schultz
Coastal Nonpoint Program
(410) 260-8735

Perception of Causes

In Maryland, the major sources of pollution include sanitary sewer overflows, septic systems, boat discharges, and polluted stormwater runoff.[4] MDNR staff believes the greatest regional threats to coastal water quality are outdated or undersized treatment facilities, excess nutrients, and non-point source pollution.[5]

Many farm fields on the lower Shore, the heart of the state's poultry industry, are saturated with phosphorus from repeated applications of chicken manure to fertilize corn, soybeans and other crops. Levels of phosphorus, one of the pollutants responsible for the Chesapeake Bay's fish-suffocating "dead zone," are rising in Shore rivers that drain farm fields. Restricting the use of animal manure as fertilizer is a key part of the O'Malley administration's plan for cleaning up the bay. The plan to restrict the use of chicken manure as crop fertilizer could cost Eastern Shore farmers from $22 million to nearly $53 million over the next six years, depending on how quickly they have to comply, a new study says. The long-awaited study, released in November 2014 by a Salisbury University business center, leaves uncertain how — or whether — departing Gov. Martin O'Malley will proceed with his controversial proposal to curtail a traditional Shore farming practice that environmental scientists say is polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland's Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality (formerly known as the 303(d) List and 305(b) Report) combines two water quality reports required under sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act. Section 305(b) requires states, territories and authorized tribes to perform annual water quality assessments to determine the status of jurisdictional waters. Section 303(d) requires states, territories and authorized tribes to identify waters assessed as not meeting water quality standards (see Code of Maryland Regulations 26.08.02). Waters that do not meet standards may require a Total Maximum Daily Load to determine the maximum amount of an impairing substance or pollutant that a particular water body can assimilate and still meet water quality criteria. Here is a link to the Draft 2012 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality in Maryland.

A first-ever report card issued in June 2009 by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the string of lagoons in Worcester County a C-plus overall, indicating moderate health. Conditions ranged from good in the southern bays bordering Assateague National Seashore to poor in the northern bays surrounded by resort development. In June 2011 the overall grade slipped to a C, driven by declines in the northernmost bays and in the southernmost bay (Chincoteague Bay) reaching down into Virginia.

Despite adopting strict new rules aimed at protecting streams from new development and demands put on largely suburban Montgomery County to clean up already built-up neighborhoods, Maryland rates only a D-plus overall for its efforts to rein in polluted runoff, according to the Chesapeake Stormwater Network.

In September 2007, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) released a report Bad Waters: Dead Zones, Algal Blooms, and Fish Kills in the Chesapeake Bay Region. The report found:

  • Blooms of often harmful, toxic algae were reported from Baltimore to Hampton Roads, often accompanied by dangerously low levels of life-sustaining dissolved oxygen.
  • In Maryland, from June to early August there were over 45 fish kills due to algae or oxygen-deprived dead zones. Some were small—others were as devastating as 26,000 dead in Marley Creek in northern Anne Arundel County.
  • Along the Maryland/Virginia border, an algal bloom lasted for more than two months on the Potomac River, eventually killing over 300,000 fish.
  • For the second time in three years, young-of-the-year smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna and Juniata river basins exhibited infections due to high levels of the bacteria Flavobacterium.
  • Fish kills of smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish reported for the last four years in the Shenandoah River system have now jumped to another watershed: the upper James and its beautiful Cowpasture and Maury River tributaries.

CBF's 2008 State of the Bay Report indicated a static overall Bay health index of 28, far from CBF's goal of 40 by 2010. For the report, CBF evaluates 13 indicators: oysters, shad, crabs, striped bass (rockfish), underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available historical and up-to-date information for each indicator and assign it an index score and letter grade.

There is now another report Bad Water 2009: The Impact on Human Health in the Chesapeake Bay Region that discusses the dangers posed to swimmers in the Chesapeake Bay by the presence of Vibrio bacteria, cyanobacteria, and the protozoa Cryptosporidium. In 2014, the index was 32 (Grade of D+).

In July 2011 the Washington Post reported:

"This year’s Chesapeake Bay dead zone covers a third of the bay, stretching from the Baltimore Harbor to the bay’s mid-channel region in the Potomac River, about 83 miles, when it was last measured in late June. It has since expanded beyond the Potomac into Virginia, officials said."

During the first quarter of each year, the Bay Program assembles an assessment of Chesapeake Bay health and restoration, which synthesizes the previous year's Bay ecosystem health, restoration efforts and factors impacting Bay and watershed health.

Long-stalled efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay got a ray of hope in May 2009, when President Barack Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take charge of a new federal effort and to exercise its full authority under the Clean Water Act. The order calls for better agricultural practices and the development of a strategy to deal with threats from climate change. Meanwhile, substantial sums of new money are flowing to restoration efforts, including $891 million from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act for upgrading wastewater treatment plants.

Polluted rain water draining into the Chesapeake Bay caused the health of the state’s largest estuary to decline in 2010, according to an independent scientific analysis released in April 2011 by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The bay scored a C-minus on the center’s annual EcoCheck report card, down from a C the year before — the first decline since 2003. The runoff was affected by natural forces and human activities such as farming and urban and suburban activities, the researchers said.

A study by Salisbury University was released in November 2014, analyzing the potential costs of implementing the Phosphorus Management Tool shows that restricting the use of poultry litter as fertilizer could cost Maryland Eastern Shore farmers between $22 million and $53 million over a period of six years. The amount depends on how quickly farmers would need to achieve compliance. The study looks at the costs chicken farmers would have to pay to remove an estimated 228,000 tons of manure annually at $28 per ton. According to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), chicken litter is a significant contributor of phosphorus to the bay. The Delmarva Peninsula, which includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is the heart of the state’s chicken industry, producing annually some 570 million chickens raised for meat, a UMCES report says. Chicken litter is rich in phosphorus, which is one of the pollutants impairing the Chesapeake Bay and must be reduced under the bay total maximum daily load. A separate study commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, puts the full value of healthy bay ecosystem services at $130 billion annually, reaching that value once the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented.

The Salisbury University study was commissioned by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to answer questions related to its proposed regulation, which would reduce phosphorus in stormwater runoff by requiring farmers to use a Phosphorus Management Tool. The tool would help farmers analyze areas where excess phosphorus is present in the soil and identify where a high potential for phosphorus loss exists. The proposed regulation that would implement the Phosphorus Management Tool was withdrawn twice in 2013 due to concerns by agricultural groups. Read more.

Public Education

As part of their beach water quality monitoring program, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) provides Tips for Beachgoers that consist of:

  • Contact your local health department or the MDE Beach Monitoring Program or the Healthy Beaches Program websites about the status of a specific beach or check online here for Worcester County.
  • Follow the recommendations of your local health department regarding swimming at a specific beach
  • Avoid swimming after heavy rainfall
  • Avoid swimming near storm drains
  • Always take a shower or bathe after swimming
  • Try not to swallow water
  • Avoid swimming if you have an open wound or infection

The Healthy Beaches website has a list of Healthy Beach Habits.

Maryland has a fact sheet on Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution.

Established in 1990, WET (Water Education for Teachers) is an interdisciplinary water education program which targets educators and young people in grades K-12. The goal of Project WET is to facilitate and promote the awareness, appreciation, knowledge, and management of water resources through the development and dissemination of classroom ready teaching aids. A trained network of teachers, resource professionals, and citizens organize and teach Project WET workshops throughout Maryland. By familiarizing educators with current water resource issues, Project WET ultimately reaches students by incorporating interesting activities, simulations, exhibits, and models into the classroom. For more information about Project WET, please contact Cindy Grove at or call (410) 260-8710.

MDNR's website has several links to materials designed to educate the public about its role in water quality improvement, including the nonpoint source pollution program descriptions mentioned above. Much more information on pollution prevention and environmental education is available from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The Chesapeake Bay Program's website contains information on a multitude of environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay region.

General Reference Documents and Websites

EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.

NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, has released an interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.


  1. USEPA website:
  2. Natural Resources Defense Council 2002 Testing the Waters Report.
  3. "Baltimore Swamped in Sewage; Reporting Error Concealed Problem's Magnitude" by Dan Wilcock, Capital News Service, December 22, 2003
  4. Natural Resources Defense Council 2002 Testing the Waters Report.
  5. Katheleen Freeman, MDNR. Surfrider State of the Beach Report survey response. January 2003.

State of the Beach Report: Maryland
Maryland Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
2011 7 SOTB Banner Small.jpg