With headwater states pledging to help hold the line on nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake, the Bay Program for the first time plans to dig into its pockets to help foot the bill.

It has agreed to give New York, Delaware and West Virginia $250,000 each over the next two years to help pay for actions that will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff.

“These are the first direct grants to the states to do something with,” said Peter Marx, associate director for communications with the EPA’s Bay Program Office.

For years, the Bay Program has provided annual grants to the jurisdictions that have been signatories to various Bay agreements — Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia — which are used for a wide range of Bay-related activities.

The three headwater states were never asked to sign any of those agreements because they were long considered too far away to significantly impact the Bay. Also, only a portion of those states are within the Bay watershed, while the Chesapeake drainage covers the majority of the signatory jurisdictions.

But the situation changed in 1999, when a federal judge said that a cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, had to be developed by 2011 to help Virginia meet its water quality standards. A TMDL can force all upstream areas that contribute to downstream water quality problems to curb pollution.

To prevent the need for a TMDL, which could force new regulatory actions, one of the key commitments of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement — signed by the EPA administrator; the District of Columbia mayor; the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; and the Chesapeake Bay Commission — called for cleaning up the Bay by 2010.

Since that agreement was signed, the governors of Delaware and New York have signed onto a separate memorandum of understanding committing them to “work cooperatively to achieve the nutrient and sediment reduction targets that we agree are necessary to achieve the goals of a clean Chesapeake Bay by 2010.”

West Virginia Gov. Robert Wise is expected to sign the memorandum within the next few weeks.

The memorandum does not obligate the upstream states to work toward the numerous other goals in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement dealing with land preservation, sprawl, fisheries management, education and other issues.

“What they have signed onto essentially is the water quality section of Chesapeake 2000,” Marx said.

Of the roughly 284 million pounds of nitrogen estimated to enter the Bay in an “average” year, about 11 percent — or 32 million pounds — stem from the three headwater states, according to Bay Program estimates. Of those, about 18 million pounds come from New York, 8 million from West Virginia and 6 million from Delaware.

Of the 20 million pounds of phosphorus that enter the Bay annually, about 1 million comes from New York, while Delaware and West Virginia each contribute about 600,000 pounds.

Participating in the Bay cleanup effort could also bring other benefits to the headwater states.

The Bay Program states are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to help farmers install runoff control devices and other conservation practices. By signing the memorandum of understanding, the headwater states could bolster their chances of securing additional money from such programs.

Also, by accepting nutrient reduction allocations from the Bay Program, the headwater states would be able to participate in other interstate efforts to control pollution, such as a nutrient trading program that is being developed.