The effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay moved upstream yesterday, with the setting of pollution-reduction goals for each of 10 river systems in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia that feed into the troubled estuary.
Bay-region officials announced they had agreed on how to divide responsibility for making a 40 percent reduction by the end of the decade in the amount of nutrients from sewage and farm runoff that are fouling the Chesapeake.
An overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus causes massive "blooms" of algae in the bay during spring and summer. Dense growths of microscopic plants kill underwater grasses in shallow waters, where crabs and fish feed and spawn. As the algae die and decay, they rob deeper waters of the dissolved oxygen that fish and shellfish need.
Under the plan, Maryland is responsible for removing nearly one-third of all the nitrogen that must be cut and one-fourth of the phosphorus. Pennsylvania is to deal with slightly less nitrogen and a little more phosphorus. Virginia is to do more than either of the others to reduce the two nutrients.
To reach their goal of restoring the bay's water quality, all three states and the District of Columbia must remove 74.1 million pounds of nitrogen and 8.4 million pounds of phosphorus from the rivers by the year 2000.
Officials in the bay states and Washington will use the new goals to draw up individual plans by next August for reaching the nutrient reduction goals on each major river system.
The rivers involved are the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania; the Patuxent and other waterways on both shores of Maryland; the Potomac bordering Maryland and Virginia; and the Rappahannock, York, James and other tributaries on both shores of Virginia.
Reaching those goals is likely to be costly. While the bay states have made significant reductions in phosphorus, little progress has been made so far in curbing nitrogen. Maryland has estimated it could cost $350 million to install nitrogen removal equipment in 24 of the state's largest sewage plants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's bay office in Annapolis.
Virginia would seem to have the biggest task. But Keith Buttleman, administrator of the Virginia Council on Environment, said his state may revise its cleanup targets after further study, -- because the James River and other lower bay tributaries have little impact on water quality in the main bay. Pollution reductions there should be tailored to restoring fish and other aquatic life in each river, he said.