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Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Best Management Practice Implementation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, 1985–2014

April 10, 2019

Efforts to restore water quality in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries often include extensive Best Management Practice (BMP) implementation on agricultural and developed lands. These BMPs include a variety of methods to reduce nutrient and sediment loads, such as cover crops, conservation tillage, urban filtering systems, and other practices.

Estimates of BMP implementation throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed were provided for each year from 1985 through 2014 by the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP). This dataset of BMP implementation is a compilation of actions reported by New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and includes a wide array of management activities. Management actions vary among the jurisdictions and generally reflect the typical land use in each region.

The amount of implementation also varies according to different priorities, reporting practices, and special programs within each jurisdiction. For example, extensive cover crop implementation was reported in Maryland whereas Pennsylvania, in general, has lower levels of BMP implementation reported on cropland. Pennsylvania and Maryland have higher levels of infiltration BMPs on developed land compared to those in Virginia.

Conservation tillage BMPs accounted for the majority of reported agricultural BMP implementation in 1985. By 2014, however, a more diverse collection of agricultural BMPs was reported and conservation tillage BMPs accounted for a smaller proportion of overall reported agricultural BMP implementation. After the year 2000, land-use change BMPs, such as land retirement, pasture fencing, and forest buffers, were more commonly reported across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Expected changes in nutrient and sediment loads in the Chesapeake Bay watershed due to BMP implementation were estimated by use of specially designed annual scenarios of the CBP Partnership Phase 5.3.2 Watershed Model. Nitrogen loads to streams were estimated to be reduced by 11 percent from 1985 to 2014 due to the implementation of BMPs. Compared with 1985, phosphorus loads were estimated to be 19 percent lower and sediment loads were estimated to be 23 percent lower by 2014 due to the effects of BMPs.

Reductions in total nitrogen from 1985 to 2014 due to BMPs varied spatially across the watershed and were estimated to be as high as 42 percent in areas of the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Reductions in phosphorus and sediment also varied spatially, with the largest reductions occurring in the Potomac watershed upstream of Washington, D.C. and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, according to the CBP model results.

Additional model scenarios were developed to estimate the effect of individual BMP types. The largest estimated reductions in total nitrogen loads on agricultural lands in 2014 were attributed to land retirement, animal waste management systems, and conservation tillage. The largest estimated reductions in total phosphorus loads on agricultural lands were attributed to animal waste management systems, pasture fencing, and phytase feed additives in 2014. The largest estimated reduction in total sediment loads on agricultural lands was attributed to conservation tillage, pasture fencing, and conservation plans.

Dry ponds, wet ponds, and constructed wetlands were reported extensively throughout the watershed. These BMPs accounted for about half of the reduction in nitrogen loads from developed land to streams, half of the phosphorus reduction, and about a third of the sediment reduction.

Publication Year 2019
Title Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Best Management Practice Implementation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, 1985–2014
DOI 10.3133/sir20185171
Authors Andrew J. Sekellick, Olivia H. Devereux, Jennifer L. D. Keisman, Jeffrey S. Sweeney, Joel D. Blomquist
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2018-5171
Index ID sir20185171
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland Water Science Center