Water Quality Analyses (WQA) with EPA Concurrence of MDE's Findings: Northeast River

The Northeast River watershed is located in the extreme reaches of the Maryland Portion of the upper Chesapeake Bay watershed.  It is located in Cecil County and bounded by the Principio Creek watershed to the west and by the Elk River to the east.  Northeast River is tidal (fresh) as far north as the Town of North East, where the head of tide intersects the fall line at the confluence of two major streams, the Northeast Creek and the Little Northeast Creek.  The fall line intersects most of the central watershed, traversing both the Northeast Creek to the west, and Little Northeast Creek just to the east.  The tidal segment of the Northeast River differs from a true estuary in that there is little intrusion of salt from the lower Chesapeake for the majority of the year; thus, there is neither longitudinal nor lateral distribution of salinity.  This atypical tidal exchange produces unusual salinity distributions within the Northeast River.  The watershed zone is predominately rural in nature, consisting mainly of animal operations (dairy cows and beef cattle farms) with fields dedicated to feed production.  Farms are generally quite large in the region.  Limited rural residential uses are present, and the communities of North East and Charlestown, where some impervious surfaces and the Northeast River WWTP are located, are the major urban areas.

Northeast River (basin code 02130608), located in Cecil County, was identified on the State’s list of WQLSs as impaired by nutrients (1996 listing), suspended sediments (1996 listing), zinc (Zn) (1996 listing), lead (Pb) (1996 listing), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (2002 listing), and impacts to biological communities (2002 listing).  All impairments were listed for the tidal waters except for impacts to biological communities, which are listed for the non-tidal region.  Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) defines the Elk River area, which includes the Northeast River, as a fresh waterbody.  This report provides an analysis of recent monitoring data, including hardness data, which shows that the aquatic life criteria and designated uses associated with Pb are being met in the Northeast River. The information (P. Jiapizian, personal communication 2001) used for listing Pb is suspect due in part to sampling and analysis methods available at the time, and assessment inconsistencies that led to the listing in 1996.

The report available below provides an analysis of recent monitoring data, including hardness data, which shows that the aquatic life uses and criteria are being met in the Northeast River watershed, and 303(d) impairment listings associated with Pb are not supported by the analyses contained herein.  The analyses support the conclusion that a TMDL for Pb is not necessary to achieve water quality standards.  Barring the receipt of contradictory data, this report will be used to support a Pb listing change for the Northeast River from Category 5 (“waterbodies impaired by one or more pollutants requiring a TMDL”) to Category 2 (“Surface waters that are meeting some standards and have insufficient information to determine attainment of other standards”), when the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) proposes the revision of Maryland’s 303(d) list for public review in the future.  The listings for PCBs, suspended sediments, and impacts to biological communities will be addressed separately at a future date.  A TMDL for nutrients was completed in 2004 and a WQA for Zn was completed in 2005. 

Water Quality Analysis of Lead in Northeast River, Cecil County, Maryland

(Concurrence: February 20, 2009)

EPA's Decision Letter EPA's Decision Letter

Main Report 

WQA_northeast_lead.pdf (517KB)

Comment Response Document

CRD_northeast_lead.pdf (7KB)


Contact Information

Please direct questions or comments concerning this project to Maryland's TMDL Program at (410) 537-3818.

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