Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin

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The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is an agency composed of commissioners representing the federal government, the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The ICPRB mission is to enhance, protect, and conserve the water and associated land resources of the Potomac River basin and its tributaries through regional and interstate cooperation.

It was one of the first organizations with a congressional mandate to consider water resources on a watershed basis, rather than along political boundaries.[1]


The Commission was created by an act of the United States Congress in 1940.[2] Congress amended the law in 1970, creating an interstate compact.[3]


ICPRB accomplishes its mission through a variety of actions to conduct, coordinate, and cooperate in studies and programs in the areas of water quality, water supply, living resources, and land resources. The Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac River (CO-OP), a special section of the Commission, was created as a technical operations center for management and coordination among the regional utilities to avoid water supply shortages in the Washington metropolitan area during droughts.


The ICPRB Commissioners represent the commonwealths of Pennsylvania and Virginia, the states of Maryland and West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. These individuals, appointed by their respective jurisdictions, set policy and provide guidance for the Commission, as an interstate compact agency.

Staff and programs[edit]

Complementing the commissioners is a professional staff that has gained a strong reputation for delivery of sound science and analysis that arms decision-makers at various government levels with the facts and technical data to resolve issues concerning the watershed. The staff efforts focus on four primary areas of involvement:

Water resources[edit]

The water resources knowledge of the staff is used to coordinate the water supply withdrawals of the three major metropolitan area water utilities that rely on Potomac River water for nearly 500 million US gallons (1.9 gigalitres) per day to meet the thirst of the capital region. Throughout the basin, project expertise includes:

  • Water resources operations and supply modeling
  • Water demand forecasting
  • Flood control and flood forecast systems
  • Acid mine drainage abatement passive treatment
  • Drinking water assessments and source water protection studies
  • River flow modeling and time of travel studies.

Water quality[edit]

Water quality issues addressed by Commission staff include supporting highly complex studies and projects that reap benefits both for the Potomac basin and for the Chesapeake Bay drainage, of which the basin comprises a major part. Project expertise includes:

Living resources[edit]

Commission participation as a partner in the bay cleanup aims at restoring living resources, improving the productivity of the ecosystem, and ensuring its vitality as a place to live, work, and recreate. Staff expertise and abilities to address impacts on the entire chain of life in the Potomac and the bay include:


The agency’s technical expertise is magnified by a communications program that extends the impacts and results of ICPRB’s projects to the region’s public. Work in protecting and improving the region’s resources can be effective only when the public is educated about the reasons for those actions and their role in the preservation of those resources. To that end, the Commission:

  • Publishes newsletters and reports
  • Maintains an informational web site
  • Responds to requests for information
  • Reaches out to schools, citizen groups, and other organizations
  • Coordinates watershed groups conducting stream cleanups.

Cooperation and partnerships[edit]

The ICPRB works with numerous partners throughout the basin using cooperative skills for encouraging multiple jurisdictions to coordinate actions on water resource issues. This brings to the watershed needed action to address the basin’s major challenges, including water quality impairments, water supply, flooding, groundwater use, and nonpoint source pollution. The Commission can complete a range of surveys and assessments designed to increase the knowledge of the ecosystem that allows for more efficient resources management.

Regional facilitation[edit]

With the mainstem of the Potomac River forming interstate boundaries, a cooperative, non-regulatory regional organization is well-suited to facilitate solutions. In a basin of nearly 15,000 square miles (39,000 km2), including five principal political jurisdictions and more than five-million residents relying on its water for domestic, industrial and agricultural water supply purposes, a technically skilled agency must assist the multiple interests in solving water resources problems. With more than one-million acres of federally owned or managed land in the basin, the federal government has an interest in the waters of the basin. An agency that provides for coordinated state and federal water resources management actions can accomplish this if properly supported. Such an agency exists in the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

Timeline of accomplishments[edit]

1940s - The Commission's first (1943) report on the condition of Potomac basin waters precipitates adoption of a pollution abatement program (1945), an intensive survey of industrial pollution (1946), and definition of a set of "Minimum Water Quality Criteria" (1946) by which Potomac streams and waterways may be judged suitable or unsuitable for several principal water uses. Concurrent to Congress enacting the first Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1948), ICPRB initiates a continuous water-quality sampling program in the basin. By 1949, ICPRB is given credit for coordination with local authorities to "radically" improve conditions on the Potomac's Shenandoah River tributary, recently referred to as a "biological desert" due to pollution from industrial waste.

1950s - ICPRB issues a major report describing the polluted Washington area Potomac and publishes the results of a study it sponsored on North Branch industrial wastes (1954). Under the auspices of the ICPRB, a group of citizens organizes the Citizens Council for a Clean Potomac (1956). As the U.S. Public Health Service declares the Potomac River unsafe for swimming, ICPRB estimates that on the average, 60 million cubic feet of sediment is deposited annually within the metropolitan Washington reach of the Potomac estuary (1957). Chairman Harold A. Kemp indicates Potomac River pollution has reached a "critical condition" with urgent need for additional sewage treatment facilities.[4] By 1958, ICPRB is gathering and tabulating information from about 85 stream sampling stations operated by cooperating agencies, municipalities and industries. The following year, ICPRB publishes its first "Potomac River Water Quality Network," holds a "first-of-its-kind" silt control conference and sponsors a study of sediment sources in the basin with the U.S. Geological Survey.

1960s - In 1963, ICPRB issues two reports on sediment sources and an urban sediment control program.

1970s - ICPRB's Compact is amended in 1970, extending its authority to include water supply and water-related land use. In 1975, an ICPRB conference focuses on rising dollar and energy costs associated with DC metro area sewage treatment.

1980s - ICPRB initiates regional discussion of the problem posed by invasive aquatic weed, hydrilla (1983). After Maryland (1985) and the District of Columbia (1986) initiate a phosphate detergent bans, ICPRB recommends (1987) expanding such bans basin-wide.

1990s - MD, WV and ICPRB sign (1993) cooperative agreement on program to restore water quality to the North Branch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Rockville, MD (2009). "ICPRB: Protecting a River, Advancing a Quality of Life." Fact sheet.
  2. ^ Seventy-sixth Congress, third session, Public Resolution No. 93. 54 Stat. 748. Approved July 11, 1940.
  3. ^ Pub.L. 91–407, S.J.Res. 67, 84 Stat. 656, September 25, 1970.
  4. ^ "Potomac Basin Official Asks Immediate Action on Pollution". Washington Post. 20 March 1951. 
  5. ^ ICPRB. "Potomac Timeline". Retrieved 2012-08-14. 

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