, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 171–185

A watershed perspective on nutrient enrichment, science, and policy in the Patuxent River, Maryland: 1960–2000

  • Christopher F. D'Elia
  • Walter R. Boynton
  • James G. Sanders

DOI: 10.1007/BF02695960

Cite this article as:
D'Elia, C.F., Boynton, W.R. & Sanders, J.G. Estuaries (2003) 26: 171. doi:10.1007/BF02695960


The Patuxent River, Maryland, is a nutrient-overenriched tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Nutrient inputs from sewage outfalls and nonpoint sources (NPS) have grown substantially during the last four decades, and chlorophylla levels have increased markedly with concomitant reductions in water quality and dissolved oxygen concentrations. The Patuxent has gained national attention because it was one of the first river basins in the U.S. for which basin-wide nutrient control standards were developed. These included a reduction in NPS inputs and a limit on both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loadings in sewage discharges intended to return the river to 1950s conditions. Full implementation of point source controls occurred by 1994, but population growth and land-use changes continue to increase total nutrient loadings to the river. The present paper provides the perspectives of scientists who participated in studies of the Patuxent River and its estuary over the last three decades, and who interacted with policy makers as decisions were made to develop a dual nutrient control strategy. Although nutrient control measures have not yet resulted in dramatic increases in water quality, we believe that without them, more extensive declines in water quality would have occurred. Future reductions will have to come from more effective NPS controls since future point source loading will be difficult to further reduce with present technology. Changing land use will present a challenge to policy makers faced with sprawling population growth and accelerated deforestation.

Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher F. D'Elia
    • 1
  • Walter R. Boynton
    • 2
  • James G. Sanders
    • 3
  1. 1.University at Albany, Department of Biological SciencesState University of New YorkAlbany
  2. 2.Chesapeake Biological LaboratoryUniversity of Maryland Center for Environmental ScienceSolomons
  3. 3.Skidaway Institute of OceanographySavannah