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The Cost of Nutrient Reduction: A Case Study of Chesapeake Bay

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Over $3.5 billion were spent toward nutrient controls in the Chesapeake Bay watershed between 1985 and 1996. These expenditures were based on cost-shares between federal, state, local, and private sources and should be considered conservative. A comparison of point and nonpoint nutrient control expenditures in the Bay basin showed that about 50% of the funds were directed toward agricultural best management practices and 45% were allocated for point source nutrient reductions and combined sewer overflows (20% and 25%, respectively). The remainder was spent on various other estuarine-targeted programs. Maryland was responsible for 79% of the total expenditures, 16% was expended by Virginia, and the remainder was attributable to the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania (4% and 1%, respectively). The most costly basin was the Patuxent (over $125 per kilogram of total nitrogen removed) and the least costly was the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where the cost was just under $21 per kilogram of nitrogen removed. For the control practices examined, the analysis found that nutrient management was the least costly. Animal waste control and low tillage were the second and third most economical nutrient management strategies. Significant reductions were achieved from point sources for both total nitrogen (16%) and total phosphorus (53%) by 1996. Virtually all of the large reduction in point source phosphorus was a result of the phosphorus detergent ban implemented basinwide in the late 1980s. Nonpoint source nutrient reductions were more modest. An approximate 12% reduction in phosphorus was accompanied by an 8% reduction in total nitrogen loadings. Despite these nutrient reductions, no significant improvements in bottom-dissolved oxygen levels were detected along the Bay mainstem during the warmer months, and the mouth of Chesapeake Bay showed marginally significant degradation during the 11-year period. It was determined that dissolved oxygen conditions were influenced more by nitrogen than phosphorus reductions and that nutrient controls aimed at the mid-Bay region had the greatest potential for improving low dissolved oxygen conditions in the Bay's bottom waters.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2000-04-01

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