The economic stimulus bill being drafted by Congress could provide a boost for a wide range of environmental programs over the next two years, and regional leaders are hoping to steer a portion of those funds to Bay restoration efforts.

House Democrats in January released the outline for an economic stimulus bill of $825 billion over the next two years, much of which would be steered toward infrastructure improvements to help spur job creation.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory panel representing Bay state legislatures, passed a resolution in January urging members of Congress and governors to push for Chesapeake-related initiatives as the legislation is drafted.

The resolution said the stimulus package presented "an unprecedented opportunity for the Bay region, and the nation, to invest in an economic recovery package that simultaneously recharges the economy, improves environmental quality and stimulates job growth."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also urged governors to push for increased support for Bay projects.

Roy Hoagland, CBF vice president for environmental protection and restoration, said the stimulus bill provided a "unique opportunity" for governors to fulfill their commitment to accelerate Bay restoration efforts.

For instance, the draft legislation would provide $6 billion over the next two years to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund which provides low-?interest loans for wastewater treatment plant upgrades. That's a huge increase-the fund had been getting less than $1 billion annually in recent years.

The stimulus package is seeking to fund "shovel ready" projects to spur economic activity, and Hoagland noted that a number of wastewater treatment plants in the watershed have engineering plans for upgrades, but do not have funds for construction.

The funds would also provide regional economic benefits. Hoagland noted that a recent study for the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that for every government dollar spent for new water and sewer infrastructure, there is roughly a $6 increase in private output.

In addition to treatment plant upgrades, other parts of the emerging bill could also help other Chesapeake efforts. The commission's resolution said the legislation could support "environmentally sound transportation improvements," which could include stormwater retrofits on existing highways, and increasing transit system capacity.

The commission said runoff from roads and other paved surfaces in the watershed is estimated to contribute 7 million pounds of nitrogen and 1 million pounds of phosphorus to the Bay annually.

In addition, the commission called for funding "large-scale, labor-intensive ecosystem restoration efforts." Funds through a variety of federal programs could be used to help restore tidal wetlands, Bay grasses, oyster reefs and forests throughout the watershed, it said.