Federal regulators approved new pollution limits Monday for Maryland's coastal bays aimed at restoring water quality in the shallow lagoons that serve both as playground for Ocean City vacationers and vital habitat for fish and wildlife.

Like the Chesapeake Bay, the state's coastal bays suffer from an overdose of nitrogen and phosphorus, which feed algae blooms and stress fish by depleting levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. The bays have been officially recognized as impaired by nutrient pollution since the mid-1990s.

"Clearly, a lot of estuaries are plagued with the same challenges," said Jon Capacasa, water division chief for the mid-Atlantic regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which approved the coastal bays' pollution limits. As is the case with the Chesapeake, the coastal bays are being degraded by air pollution fallout, farm and urban runoff, leaking septic tanks and wastewater discharges.

The pollution "diet" drawn up by the Maryland Department of the Environment calls for reductions in nutrients ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent in four of the five bays – Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Newport and Chincoteague. No pollution cutback is needed in Sinepuxent, the state determined, while reductions of up to 55 percent may be called for to improve water quality in the Bishopville Prong of Isle of Wight Bay, a particularly poorly flushed area, according to Tim Rule, who oversaw development of the state report.

The EPA adopted a pollution "diet" for the Chesapeake in 2010, which requires Maryland and the other five states in the vast bay watershed to have all needed pollution cuts in place by 2025. The coastal bays watershed also extends into Delaware and Virginia, but the limits approved Monday apply only to Maryland's portion of the watershed. It also has no set deadline. Worcester County is to draw up a plan for achieving the pollution limits

Tim.wheeler@baltsun.com