The Chesapeake Bay has a long history of government regulation, which has become an important component of environmental restoration and conservation. In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed, establishing water quality standards and limiting the amount and kind of pollutants that can enter rivers, streams and other waterways across the country. In the 1980s, states took notice of the importance of collaboration when regulating the Bay and formed the Chesapeake Bay Commission. The Commission is a tri-state legislative body that represents Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, established to coordinate policy regarding the Bay across state lines.

The Bay then gained federal attention as the first estuary in the nation targeted by Congress for restoration and protection. The first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed by Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the District of Columbia; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the Chesapeake Bay Commission. It was a simple, one-page pledge that recognized that a cooperative approach was necessary to address the Bay’s pollution problems. In 1987, the Chesapeake Bay Agreement was revisited. This new agreement set the first numeric goals to reduce pollution and restore the Bay ecosystem. Agreeing to numeric goals with specific deadlines was unprecedented in 1987, but the practice has become a hallmark of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

In 2000, Bay Program partners signed Chesapeake 2000, a comprehensive agreement that set a clear vision and strategy to guide restoration efforts through 2010. Chesapeake 2000 established 102 goals to reduce pollution, restore habitats, protect living resources, promote sound land use practices and engage the public in Bay restoration. Chesapeake 2000 also marked the first time that the Bay’s “headwater states”–Delaware, New York and West Virginia–officially joined the Bay Program’s restoration efforts. In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order that called on the federal government to renew the effort to protect and restore the watershed, and in 2010, the EPA established the landmark Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is a federal “pollution diet” that sets limits on the amount of nutrients and sediment that can enter the Bay and its tidal rivers to meet water quality goals. The newest version of the Bay Agreement was signed in 2014, for the first time including the headwater states as full members, and addressing new goals such as climate change and toxic contaminants.