Achieving and maintaining the water quality conditions necessary to protect the aquatic living resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries has required a foundation of quantifiable water quality criteria. Quantitative criteria serve as a critical basis for assessing the attainment of designated uses and measuring progress toward meeting water quality goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. In 1987, the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership committed to defining the water quality conditions necessary to protect aquatic living resources. Under section 303(c) of the Clean Water Act, States and authorized tribes have the primary responsibility for adopting water quality standards into law or regulation. The Chesapeake Bay Program partnership worked with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop and publish a guidance framework of ambient water quality criteria with designated uses and assessment procedures for dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and chlorophyll a for Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries in 2003. This article reviews the derivation of the water quality criteria, criteria assessment protocols, designated use boundaries, and their refinements published in six addendum documents since 2003 and successfully adopted into each jurisdiction's water quality standards used in developing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.