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US Coastal Bays Likely To Get Needed Cleanup

SANTA Monica Bay is at once one of the most popular and polluted coastal areas in the United States.

Over the decades, in addition to swimmers and surfers, it has also attracted its share of DDT, sewage, and urban runoff from the megalopolis that hugs its shores. Now comes an ambitious plan to clean up the bay. Put together by an unusual coalition of environmental, business, and other interests, the initiative proposes spending $67 million over five years on everything from restoring wetlands to curbing leeching from storm drains.

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Seeing the project through, however, will test the resolve and financial resources of public and private agencies alike.

``We have had success in developing a broad consensus on the plan to be implemented,'' says Catherine Tyrrell, director of the project to restore the bay. ``Now, how do we ... pay for it?''

The plan for Santa Monica Bay is part of an effort to clean up some of the nation's most imperiled coastal areas. It is one of 21 estuaries targeted for help under the federal Clean Water Act.

Others include Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and San Francisco Bay. Three - Puget Sound in Washington State, Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts and Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island - have already had cleanup plans approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Coming up with the money to carry them out is a problem. When the national estuary program was started in 1987, the idea was that Uncle Sam would pay for the planning. The states, or someone else, would have to pick up the tab for the cleanup.

Environmental groups, however, are pushing to see that some federal largess is available.

Few doubt the importance of estuaries, where streams and rivers run into the seas. They act as bridges between freshwater and marine ecosystems. They serve as spawning and feeding grounds for shellfish and other creatures. They are, however, under increasing pressure from encroaching civilization. Some 75 percent of US citizens live within 50 miles of a coastline.

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EACH estuary on the federal list seems to have its own special problem. Puget Sound, for instance, has been bedeviled by wetlands losses and contamination from industrial discharges. Sewage has been a problem in New England. Santa Monica Bay's main villain is urban runoff of backyard garden chemicals, driveway grease, gas station oil, and other pollutants that makes their way into the bay. Ocean sediments laced with DDT continue to contaminate fish, even though the pesticide was banned two decades ago and discharges were stopped.

Industrial effluents and sewage remain problems, though substantial progress has been made in cleaning up those sources. This is not to mention the everyday use of the bay, and its 50 miles of coastline, as a Pacific playground.

But urban runoff, because of its magnitude, is a main focus of the new restoration plan, which recommends 73 ways to heal the bay.

These include hiring workers for a massive runoff-control program and educating people not to let their detritus end up in neighborhood storm drains.

Other proposed ideas: Crack down on illegal sewage disposal, hire more wildlife protection officers, restore wetlands and sand dunes, develop ways to determine the risk of swimming in the bay.

Of the $67 million to be spent, $30 million is expected to come from existing grants and loans, bond issues, and private money. The rest would come from federal, state, and local sources.

``Without the implementation funds, it is going to be pretty hard - especially in this economic climate - to follow through on these commitments,'' says Mark Gold, a scientist with Heal the Bay, a local environmental group.

Others, such as state Sen. Tom Hayden (D), a longtime champion of cleaning up the bay, worry that, because the proposals are voluntary, they may not be carried out.

The plan was cobbled together, under EPA auspices, by a diverse group of interests normally at odds over such issues.

``I think the breadth of the players will create the momentum to make this happen,'' says Ms. Tyrrell.

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