The Bay Program recently unveiled $1.6 million in grants to support local restoration and education efforts throughout the watershed, from New York to Virginia, and from Delaware to West Virginia.

The Small Watershed Grants are expected to trigger at least another $3 million in activity, either through matching grants or in labor by organizations receiving money.

The money, given in 59 grants from $50,000 to $1,700, support a host of Bay-related activities ranging from underwater grass bed plantings to water quality monitoring, to community outreach.

The intent of the 4-year-old program is to stimulate locally based actions that improve water quality and promote a greater understanding of the relationship between local waterways and the Bay.

“It’s the people closest to the problem who have some of the best solutions,” said EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who was on hand to make the grant announcements Aug. 7 at the Bay Program Office in Annapolis.

The grants program consists primarily of funds earmarked in the EPA’s budget, but also has supporting money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also, $100,000 was raised by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit organization which administers the program.

“This is funding by big government to act locally,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD., who praised local groups for the “sweat equity” they would put into projects to help match the federal grants. “This isn’t about more money. It’s about more results.”

Examples of grants included a $44,500 grant to the Anacostia Watershed Society to teach at least 450 students from local schools about the watershed through hands-on activities such as water quality monitoring, habitat restoration and cleanups.

The Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage received a grant for $20,300 to provide technical and other assistance to farmers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to improve wildlife habitat while helping the Bay.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay got a $20,000 grant to launch a James River Sojourn next year. It is patterned after the Alliance’s popular Susquehanna Sojourn, an annual canoe trip in which scores of canoeists not only see the river and its problems first hand, but meet with local government officials and others along the way to discuss solutions.

The Elizabeth River Project got a $30,000 grant to create demonstration projects, such as the creation of riparian forest buffers at local businesses, that may be adopted through the Elizabeth River watershed in Virginia.

The small grants program was created in 1998, largely through the efforts of Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD.

In next year’s appropriations, the Senate has included $1.75 million for the program in EPA’s budget, $500,000 in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget, and $250,000 in the Forest Service budget. If the House goes along, that would make $2.5 million available for the program next year.

If funded, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation anticipates seeking a new round of grant applications, with proposals due by early winter. Final decisions on grants would be completed by late spring.

For more information about the Small Watershed Grants Program, and potential future grant opportunities, visit the Bay Program’s web site at www.chesapeakebay.net or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s web site at www.nfwf.org