The Bay Program will make new efforts to incorporate local governments into Chesapeake restoration efforts, both through improved outreach, and by recognizing outstanding local initiatives that can help the Bay and its tributaries.

The adoption of a new Local Government Participation Plan by the Executive Council at its Oct. 10 meeting recognizes that many decisions that ultimately affect the health of the Bay are made at the local - not the state or federal - level.

"We have to make sure that local governments are involved ... in the entire Bay restoration," said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a former county executive, at the meeting. "As a local official of almost 20 years, I understand that local governments deal with the environment every single day. When you think about it, who pays for wastewater treatment upgrades? ... Who develops master plans? ... And who enforces many of our toughest environmental regulations? It is local government."

To emphasize the link with local government, the Executive Council meeting took place in conjunction with a Bay Program-sponsored conference, "Making the Connection," which brought local government representatives together to exchange examples of activities that protect local resources - and the Bay.

"We need to restore not only our own communities, but help clean up the Chesapeake Bay," said Gary Allen, mayor of Bowie, Md., who led efforts to develop the new plan as the former chairman of the Bay Program's Local Government Advisory Committee.

The new plan encourages local government action in three theme areas - land use management, stream corridor protection and infrastructure improvements. Local governments are to comment on specific actions to help implement those themes over the next year, and the Local Government Advisory Committee is to report on potential priorities at next year's Executive Council meeting.

The action plan describes a new Bay Program "culture" that realizes the protection of Bay water quality depends on the actions that more than 1,650 local governments in the watershed take to protect wetlands and streambanks, as well as to control runoff and maintain wastewater treatment plants. To allow local governments to play an active role in that culture, the plan outlines more than two dozen actions for the Bay Program.

A key element is expanding the Bay Program's outreach efforts. This will take place through a variety of means, ranging from newsletters to the production of new informational materials, to having the Bay Program participate in local government association meetings and conferences.

The Bay Program will conduct periodic roundtable meetings with local governments to get their input on important issues, and will draw on local government expertise in dealing with specific issues.

The report notes that demands placed on local governments are often greater than their financial resources. The policy will raise the profile of local governments in the Bay Program's budget decisions, and commits the Program to help find outside sources of funding, such as grants.

Also, the Bay Program will provide local governments with technical and scientific material to help with their decision-making. This would include information about the impacts of septic systems on local resources and the Bay and information about the costs and benefits of implementing land management measures such as stream corridor protection.