A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Bay watershed have asked President George Bush to allocate $1 billion for the Bay cleanup in his 2006 budget, which will be released in February.

Citing the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel’s report, which called for a $15 billion financing authority to be capitalized over six years to pay for Bay Restoration efforts—with 80 percent of the money coming from the federal government—the letter called for an initial federal payment of $1 billion into the fund during the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

“While this is a significant sum of money, it is important to point out that investment in the health and productivity of this national treasure would return tremendous dividends to the economy, the environment and our quality of life,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter noted that the federal government has $4 billion a year earmarked for conservation spending in the Farm Bill, some of which could be targeted toward the watershed to help farmers control nutrient runoff.

In addition, boosting funding in other programs, including the Army Corps of Engineers’ Bay-related activities and the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, could also help to fill the gap.

The request may face an uphill struggle. A similar letter sent a year earlier, but signed only by the senators from the three states, did not result in additional funding. Further, Congressional leaders and the Bush administration have indicated they want to curb spending to reduce their record budget deficits of recent years.

For the current year, that resulted in slashing—not increasing—funds for the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which helps to pay for water infrastructure improvements such as wastewater treatment plant upgrades. The cut this year will reduce funding to Virginia by $5.3 million, Pennsylvania by $10.2 million, Maryland by $6.2 million and the District of Columbia by $1.3 million.

Signing the letter were Maryland Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, Virginia Sens. John Warner and George Allen, both Republicans, Pennsylvania Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, both Republicans.

Also signing were U.S. Representatives, Elijah Cummings, D-MD; Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD; Robert Scott, D-VA; Chris Van Hollen, D-MD; Steny Hoyer, D-MD; Benjamin Cardin, D-MD; Tim Holden, D-PA; Albert Wynn, D-MD; Tom Davis, R-VA; Jo Ann Davis, R-VA; and Eleanor Norton, D-DC.