Watershed groups and local governments who want to act to protect their local waterways may be eligible for support from the Bay Program.

The Bay Program is launching a small watershed grants program to support local education and restoration efforts that advance both local and Chesapeake restoration goals and are likely to achieve relatively quick results.

The money is made available through a special $750,000 appropriation from Congress to provide "seed grants" and technical support to local watershed protection initiatives.

The appropriation dovetails with by the Bay Program's recently increased emphasis on local efforts that protect the health of the 110,000 miles of rivers and streams that feed the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Executive Council in October approved a new Community Watershed Initiative to strengthen the Bay Program's support for such efforts.

The grants program is open to nonprofit organizations that use a watershed approach to protect the environment, and to local governments, including counties, townships, towns, cities, boroughs, conservation districts, planning districts or utility districts.

Applications may be submitted in two categories: up to $10,000, or $10,001 to $40,000. More grants will be available in the smaller category, and its application procedure will be simpler. It's anticipated that decisions on grant applications will be made in April.

A formal "call for proposals" will be issued soon by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which will administer the program. Final grant decisions will be made by a review team with representatives from the Bay Program, watershed groups and local governments.

Proposals will be evaluated based on their level of integration with Bay Program objectives; the likelihood of success; level of support from local communities; attainment of necessary permits and landowner approval; the degree to which grants will be matched with other funds or commitments; and the likelihood of a project achieving environmental improvements at an early date.

For information, contact the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay at: 410-377-6270.