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Condition of the Mid-Atlantic Estuaries

1998. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Washington, D.C. 20460 EPA/600/R-98/147

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Estuaries are transitional zones where salt water from the sea mixes with fresh water flowing off the land. They provide habitat for many birds, mammals, fish and other aquatic life. Therefore, estuaries are important assets that humans use in a wide variety of ways. This report focuses on the current condition of the Mid- Atlantic estuaries from the early- to mid-1990s, and how and why the estuaries have changed over the years. The Mid-Atlantic estuaries included in this report are: the Delaware Estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Delmarva coastal bays. The water quality conditions of the Mid-Atlantic coastal waters are also discussed.

Condition of the Mid-Atlantic Estuaries was prepared by scientists from EPA 's Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Narragansett, Rhode Island, in collaboration with individuals from EPA Regions II and III and numerous other EPA offices; the states of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the U.S. Geological Survey; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It represents the synthesis of information published in a variety of independent scientific reports or contained in established scientific databases. Numerous research studies have been prepared by Federal and state programs and by academic researchers for individual states or watersheds; however, a comprehensive report including water quality, sediment contamination, habitat change, and the condition of living resources had never been done on a regional scale. Data from across all Federal and state programs have been used and comparisons of one estuary to another (and in the case of water quality, the coastal waters) within the Region have been made. The report not only identifies specific geographic problem areas, but estimates the percentage of estuaries that are in good condition, are in moderate condition, or are degraded based on various water quality parameters.

Environmental Challenge

Estuaries in the Mid-Atlantic Region are being adversely affected by human activities. They need active management if environmental quality is to be sustained. The states, in conjunction with EPA through the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Estuary Programs, have instituted successful environmental management programs to address these environmental challenges, but this work must be continued and expanded if the goals established for the future are to be met. The Mid-Atlantic Region has experienced some of the most rapid population growth, industrial growth, and intensive agriculture in the country. From 1950 to 1990, the population has grown from 13 to 21 million. By 2020 an estimated 25 million people will be living in the estuarine watershed of the Mid-Atlantic Region. This growing population will require land for homes, transportation, shops, jobs, and recreation. Urban land currently comprises 5% of the region's watershed and is close to the estuarine shoreline. As watersheds become more developed, the amount of impervious surface area increases, the amount of pollutants carried in the storm-water increases, and the amount of wastewater and solid waste requiring disposal increases. Additionally, increased population puts increased pressure on the living resources.

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Major Findings

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Obtaining the Report

To order copies of Condition of the Mid-Atlantic Estuaries, publication no. EPA 600-R-98-147, call EPA Region III's Community Based Assessment Team at 410-573-2749 (after January 1999, 410-305-2749).

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