Legislation that would increase federal support for the Bay restoration effort and make permanent the popular, Small Watershed Grants Program, which supports local conservation efforts, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act of 1999, which refers to the Bay as “a national treasure and a resource of worldwide significance,” calls for increasing overall support for the EPA’s Bay Program Office to $30 million a year.

In recent years, the office — which coordinates restoration efforts and makes grants to states, research institutions and others to support the cleanup effort — has been budgeted for about $20 million.

The bill is an authorization, which allows Congress to spend more on the Bay effort, but does not guarantee that additional money would be appropriated. Yet the legislation is significant in that it signals support for the program to other lawmakers.

“The Chesapeake Bay Program is an extraordinary example of how local, state, regional and federal agencies can work with citizens and private organizations to manage complicated, vital, natural resources,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, in introducing the bill. “Indeed, the Chesapeake Bay Program serves as a model across the country and around the world.”

Besides Sarbanes, the bill was sponsored by Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD; John Warner, R-VA; Chuck Robb, D-VA; and Rick Santorum, R-PA. Similar legislation passed the Senate last year and nearly made it through the House before time ran out at the end of the session.

The bill would make the Small Watershed Grants Program a permanent part of the Bay Program. Although the small grants program has existed for two years, its funding was the result of Congress earmarking $750,000 in each of those years.

Last year, it provided 37 grants, ranging from $500 to $40,000, for local restoration and education projects.

The legislation would require federal agencies that own or operate facilities within the watershed to develop and implement management plans that comply with nutrient reduction, habitat restoration and other commitments in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. It would also require federal agencies to participate in regional watershed planning programs.

In addition, the bill requires the Bay Program to complete a report by April 22, 2000, and every five years thereafter, which assesses the health of the Bay ecosystem and whether current efforts are meeting restoration goals. It will also recommend ways that existing strategies could be changed to improve the restoration effort.

The bill also directs the EPA to launch a 5-year study to determine the “status and trends” of living resources in the Bay and to determine how they have responded to any water quality improvements in the Chesapeake. The study is to examine whether food chains in the Bay have been affected by water quality, and to recommend further management actions needed to restore a “healthy and balanced ecosystem.”