Why metrics matter: evaluating policy choices for reactive nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Jan 1;45(1):168-74. doi: 10.1021/es101472z. Epub 2010 Sep 20.


Despite major efforts, the reduction of reactive nitrogen (Nr) using traditional metrics and policy tools for the Chesapeake Bay has slowed in recent years. In this article, we apply the concept of the Nitrogen Cascade to the chemically dynamic nature and multiple sources of Nr to examine the temporal and spatial movement of different forms of Nr through multiple ecosystems and media. We also demonstrate the benefit of using more than the traditional mass fluxes to set criteria for action. The use of multiple metrics provides additional information about where the most effective intervention point might be. Utilizing damage costs or mortality metrics demonstrates that even though the mass fluxes to the atmosphere are lower than direct releases to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, total damage costs to all ecosystems and health are higher because of the cascade of Nr and the associated damages, and because they exact a higher human health cost. Abatement costs for reducing Nr releases into the air are also lower. These findings have major implications for the use of multiple metrics and the additional benefits of expanding the scope of concern beyond the Bay itself and support improved coordination between the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts while restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / economics
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring / standards
  • Environmental Policy*
  • Fresh Water / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Models, Chemical
  • Nitrogen Cycle
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / analysis*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / economics
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control
  • Weights and Measures / standards*


  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical