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In general, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous reach the Chesapeake Bay from three sources: wastewater treatment plants; urban, suburban and agricultural runoff; and air pollution. Nutrients can also come from natural sources, like soil, plant material and wild animal waste.
Because phytoplankton respond quickly to changes in nutrient levels, their population density acts as an indicator of nutrient pollution and Bay health.
Nutrient and sediment pollution are the main causes of the Chesapeake Bay’s poor water clarity. Nutrients fuel the growth of water-clouding algae blooms, while particles of sediment can float in the water. Weather also plays a role in water clarity: rain storms wash dirt and pollutants into the Bay, muddying the water.
Sometimes the Bay’s deeper waters have little or no oxygen while surface waters have more oxygen. This usually happens in summer because of a combination of factors, including temperature, nutrient pollution, the way water flows in the Bay, and the shape of the Bay’s bottom.