Maryland's 10-year effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay formally turned upstream yesterday.
In a ceremony on the banks of the South River, officials from 18 counties and Baltimore pledged to significantly reduce pollution in the bay's tributaries by the turn of the century.
The cooperative agreement is the first of its kind between state and local governments on the bay, Gov. William Donald Schaefer told the audience of about 75.
By working together, officials hope to revive the Chesapeake by improving water quality and spawning conditions in its arteries: creeks, streams and rivers.
Local officials at yesterday's ceremony tempered their enthusiasm with realism.
The agreement is only voluntary and could cost Marylanders hundreds of millions of dollars.
"There's a lot of work to be done," said Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, who played host for the signing at Quiet Waters Park near Annapolis. "The real acid test is to figure out an equitable way to finance what we have to do."
Strategies range from limiting development to upgrading sewage treatment plants to cutting down the use of certain pesticides. Mr. Neall said potential changes could cost tens of millions of dollars in Anne Arundel County alone.
The federal government and the bay states -- Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia -- have spent 10 years cleaning up the Chesapeake. Amid signs of recovery, yesterday's agreement broadens the effort, giving local governments a significant role on the bay's 10 major tributaries.
Although officials from five counties involved did not attend, they have agreed to sign on, said Cecily Majerus, the governor's bay coordinator.
Specifically, the local governments have pledged to help reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorus released into their waters by 40 percent by the year 2000.
The nutrient pollution comes from many sources, including sewage, car exhausts and runoff from farm fields. After seeping into the water, the nutrients cause algae to bloom, depriving underwater grasses of sunlight and depleting oxygen needed by marine life.
Working with county officials, the state plans to develop specific strategies by next June. Implementation and financing will be the greatest challenge and will require great flexibility, county executives said.
Upgrading sewage treatment plants, for instance, can cost tens of millions of dollars. Funding such a project in Anne Arundel County would require creativity, Mr. Neall said. Simply passing the cost on to users of the sewage system wouldn't be fair, he said.
Jane Nishida, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she was encouraged by yesterday's agreement.
It now "becomes a question of how do we turn commitment into action," she said. "I guess only time will tell."