Quantifying groundwater's role in delaying improvements to Chesapeake Bay water quality

Environ Sci Technol. 2013;47(23):13330-8. doi: 10.1021/es401334k. Epub 2013 Nov 12.


A study has been undertaken to determine the time required for the effects of nitrogen-reducing best management practices (BMPs) implemented at the land surface to reach the Chesapeake Bay via groundwater transport to streams. To accomplish this, a nitrogen mass-balance regression (NMBR) model was developed and applied to seven watersheds on the Delmarva Peninsula. The model included the distribution of groundwater return times obtained from a regional groundwater-flow (GWF) model, the history of nitrogen application at the land surface over the last century, and parameters that account for denitrification. The model was (1) able to reproduce nitrate concentrations in streams and wells over time, including a recent decline in the rate at which concentrations have been increasing, and (2) used to forecast future nitrogen delivery from the Delmarva Peninsula to the Bay given different scenarios of nitrogen load reduction to the water table. The relatively deep porous aquifers of the Delmarva yield longer groundwater return times than those reported earlier for western parts of the Bay watershed. Accordingly, several decades will be required to see the full effects of current and future BMPs. The magnitude of this time lag is critical information for Chesapeake Bay watershed managers and stakeholders.

MeSH terms

  • Bays
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Estuaries*
  • Groundwater / chemistry*
  • Maryland
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Nitrogen Cycle / physiology*
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Time Factors
  • Virginia
  • Water Quality / standards*


  • Nitrates