Water Quality Standards
ADVANCE NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING (ANPRM) – 2013 TRIENNIAL REVIEW OF WATER QUALITY STANDARDS
The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that States review their water quality standards (WQS) every three years (Triennial Review) and revise the standards as necessary. A water quality standard consists of three parts:
- Designated Uses that set goals for a water body. Examples are support of aquatic life, drinking water supply or a coldwater fishery such as trout.
- Criteria that support the designated uses - There are numerous criteria for chemical substances, bacteria, acidity and physical characteristics (e.g., temperature). Examples include dissolved oxygen sufficient to support aquatic life or metals in sufficiently low concentrations that they will not interfere with aquatic life.
- Antidegradation policy - Maryland has a policy in place, and updates the list of high quality waters each triennium as needed.
The Maryland water quality standards are found in the Code of Maryland regulations (COMAR) at 26.08.01 – 26.08.02. Maryland regulations may be accessed online at the Division of State Documents web site: www.dsd.state.md.us. Click on COMAR Online and enter the appropriate regulatory reference.
MDE has successfully used the ANPRM process during previous Triennial Reviews. The ANPRM is an informal, non-regulatory tool used to solicit input from stakeholders, prior to initiating the formal rule-making process. This gives stakeholders an opportunity to present recommendations, voice concerns, and provide input to the State’s water quality standards for MDE to consider for amendment and addition.
With this ANPRM, The Maryland Department of the Environment is soliciting public input on its current review of the Water Quality Standards. Issues that the MDE believes should be addressed are presented in the following document for public review. MDE will consider additional issues if the necessary data are available to make the appropriate determination. A subsequent promulgation of new water quality standards may include issues not included in this proposal.
Click here for the ANPRM document - ANPRM
This document is also published in the May 31, 2013 edition of the Maryland Register
Comments on this proposal and on additional issues specific to Maryland's water quality standards and this Triennial Review should be submitted to John Backus at John.Backus@maryland.gov or to the following address:
Attn: John Backus
Maryland Dept. of the Environment
Science Services Administration
1800 Washington Blvd
Baltimore, MD 21230
What are water quality standards?
The purpose of water quality standards is to protect, maintain and improve the quality of Maryland surface waters. The following are three components of water quality standards:
- Designated Uses;
- Water quality criteria to protect the designated uses; and
- Antidegradation policy.
What are Designated Uses?
A designated use is a goal for water quality. Typically, the goal is the description of an appropriate intended use by humans and/or aquatic life for a water body. Designated uses for a particular waterbody may include recreation, shellfishing, water supply and/or aquatic life habitat. The goals established may or may not be met currently, but must be attainable. Each stream segment, lake, bay, etc. in Maryland is assigned a designated use or multiple designated uses.
For more detailed information on Maryland’s designated uses including maps of streams and their associated designated uses, please click here.
Water Quality Criteria
- Numeric criteria set the minimum water quality to meet the designated uses.
- Maryland has numerous numeric criteria for protection of aquatic life and human health (e.g., 5 mg/l for dissolved oxygen; 82 mcg/l for Pb (acute, freshwater))
- Criteria are published for toxics, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, bacteria, and temperature.
- Where specific numeric criteria are not available (e.g., oil, grease, odor, nuisance), narrative criteria apply.
Numerical Criteria for Toxic Substances in Surface Waters: COMAR 26.08.02.03-2 - Go to COMAR Online at
Water Quality Criteria Specific to Designated Uses: COMAR 26.08.02.03-3 - Go to COMAR Online at
- Maryland’s antidegradation policy assures that water quality continues to support designated uses.
- EPA regulations provide for three tiers of protection:
- Tier 1 specifies the minimum standard that must be met—support of balanced indigenous populations and support of contact recreation—this is often referred to as "fishable-swimmable."
- Tier 2 protects water that is better than the minimum specified for that designated use. For your county's Tier 2 waters, click here.
- Maryland is developing the third Tier of protection (Tier 3) called an Outstanding National Resource Water or ONRW.
COMAR 26.08.02.04-1 - Go to COMAR Online at
For additional information, please click here.
Current Water Quality Standards
For the text of Maryland Water Quality Standards please check COMAR 26.08.02.
Changes to the Water Quality Standards
Changes to the Water Quality Standards are implemented through regulatory changes which are subject to the normal promulgation process.
- Every three years, the CWA requires that States review their water quality standards.
- Active public involvement is a clear priority.
Factsheets: Frequently Asked Questions about Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Standards
Frequently Asked Questions about EPA's Recreational Water Quality Criteria - 2012
For more information, please contact John Backus at John.Backus@maryland.gov or at (410) 537-3965.
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