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Maryland State Government Maryland Department of the Environment

Maryland's Surface Water Quality Standards

Maryland's 2016 Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards!

The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that States review their water quality standards every three years (Triennial Review) and revise the standards as necessary. Prior to initiating any formal rule-making process, MDE is providing stakeholders an opportunity to present recommendations, voice concerns, and provide input on the State’s water quality standards for MDE to consider for amendment and addition. The Science Services Administration (SSA) at MDE is soliciting public input on its current review of the Water Quality Standards. Topics currently being reviewed by SSA are presented in the document found at the link below. SSA invites stakeholder comments and suggestions and will consider them if the necessary data are available to make the appropriate determination(s). A subsequent promulgation of new water quality standards may include topics not included in this proposal. Comments on the topics provided in the link below and on additional issues that the public thinks should be addressed during this Triennial Review period should be submitted to Matthew Stover at or to the following address:

Mr. Matthew Stover
Maryland Dept. of the Environment
1800 Washington Blvd
Baltimore, MD 21230

Depending on the comments received in response to this notice, MDE plans to formally propose new and/or revised regulations by fall of 2016, and submit a final notice on these regulations by the end of the year. The 2016 Notice of Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards can be accessed through the following link: Notice of Triennial Review

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 make up the three components of water quality standards:

  • Designated Uses,
  • Water quality criteria, 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 designated uses established may or may not be met currently, but must be attainable. In Maryland these designated uses are grouped into "Use Classes" (e.g. Use Class I, I-P, II, III, IV-P) so as to describe a unique combination of designated uses that apply to a single water body. Each stream segment, lake, bay, etc. in Maryland is assigned to a use class.

For more detailed information about Maryland’s designated uses and use class groupings, please click HERE. To go directly to maps of surface waters and their associated use classes, 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 milligrams/liter for dissolved oxygen; 82 micrograms/liter 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.
  • The Numerical Criteria for Toxic Substances in Surface Waters are provided in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) Section They can be accessed through the web at:
  • Water Quality Criteria Specific to Designated Uses, are provided in COMAR Section  They can be accessed through the web 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 more information on Maryland's Tier II Antidegradation Policy please click HERE. To go directly to maps of Tier 2 high quality waters, please click HERE
    • Maryland is developing the third Tier of protection (Tier 3) called an Outstanding National Resource Water or ONRW.  
  • Maryland's Antidegradation Regulations are provided in COMAR Sections,, and Click on each hyperlink to access that particular section.


Current Water Quality Standards

For the full text of Maryland Water Quality Standards please visit COMAR 26.08.01 and 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 Clean Water Act requires that States review their water quality standards in what is called the Triennial Review.
  • Active public involvement is a clear priority.

On April 2, 2014, the Secretary of the Environment adopted amendments to the water quality standards regulations.  These amendments were proposed in the December 13, 2013 edition of the Maryland Register (40:20 Md. R.). Final action on the regulations was published in the April 18 edition of the Maryland Register.  Click here: Maryland Register Online. Comments specific to this proposal were received and have been addressed in a comment/response document. To see a list of those waters which had their Use Classes changed in the regulations, please click on the following link.




Contact Information

For more information, please contact Matthew Stover at or at (410) 537-3611.

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