Virginia's General Assembly unanimously approved legislation committing the state to complete tributary nutrient reduction strategies for each of the state's major river systems by specific dates.

Under the legislation, the state would have to complete a strategy for the Potomac River Basin by Jan. 1, 1997. Strategies for the Rappahannock, James and York rivers would need to be completed by Jan. 1, 1998; and strategies for the smaller tributaries on the Eastern and Western shores are due by Jan. 1, 1999.

In addition, the plans are to include timetables for implementation, identify a person or governmental unit responsible for the strategy, and specific indicators or benchmarks for evaluating progress.

The Chesapeake Executive Council in 1993 agreed to develop tributary strategies for all major Bay rivers as part of the Bay Program's overall goal of reducing the amount of nutrients entering the Bay 40 percent by the turn of the century.

Virginia has yet to complete any strategy, though it completed a draft Potomac River plan last fall.

The Allen administration has been criticized in the past for its slow pace in developing strategies. Critics also noted that the draft Potomac strategy appeared to leave much of the burden on local governments without clearly identifying a state role -- or state financial support.

Administration officials have defended their actions, saying they needed time to develop partnerships with the local governments that would have to implement the strategies. Allen administration officials have also said they were left with the burden of writing a strategy that the previous administration had committed the state to, but done little to develop.

Under the legislation, the Virginia tributary strategies are to spell out state funding sources and commitments to carry out the strategies, as well as alternative funding sources and the feasibility of making reductions through "trading" nutrient savings from various sources.

The strategies are also to outline state and local benefits derived through implementation and state incentives for local and private assistance in carrying out the plans. Strategies are to include scientific documentation as to their feasibility, and procedures for public participation.

If it appears that implementation of the plans will fall short of its nutrient reduction goal, the legislation calls for a process to make adjustments to the strategy.

Among the Bay states, Maryland has completed plans for all of its major rivers, but the plans do not say how to raise the hundreds of millions of additional dollars needed to implement them. Pennsylvania has completed a strategy based on anticipated funding, but it falls short of the 40 percent goal.

The Executive Council consists of the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the EPA administrator; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three states.