It's springtime now; the owners of 75,000 pleasure boats have converged on boatyards and ritzy marinas, from Annapolis' Spa Creek, east toward St. Michaels, south to Solomons Island. Toddlers wearing orange life vests charge along the seawalls, chased by shrieking mothers. Soap, paint, mildew and sawdust scent the breeze as yachtsmen varnish brightwork, tinker with their engines, check out pumps and plumbing. Annually they're angered by the ribbon of oily smudge that rings their boats at the waterline. Offensive to their eyes are the strands of green, mucus-like algae anchored to tires, beer cans and waterlogged driftwood embedded in the jet-black slime. The eyesore is typical of a dying waterway, junk but no minnows, trash but no crabs. And no matter how familiar their boats, few Chespeake sailors have seen the bottom beneath them.

Once the fun tubs are shipshape, it's time for the shakedown cruise. From abean the Naval Academy, the skippers curve south toward Thomas Point Light, where their crews notice thousands of dead fish, menhaden and alewives, their bellies bloated, paralleling the wind lines. Some fish resist death by pirouetting on the surface. "Spinners," watermen call them, but no one knows why they spin. As surely as the wind will shift, the carcasses will wash ashore to befoul bayside communities. About 38 percent of Chesapeake fish kills are caused by human tampering, and pollution is the biggest culprit. Some 22 percent is attributed to disease and natural causes. The cause of another 40 percent is unknown.

Although Bay-bred scientists examining the whole Bay -- with its tributaries and spillways stretching from New York's Finger Lakes to the swamps of North Carolina -- consider the Chesapeake "a fairly healthy body of water," any sailor's eyesight confirms the contrary.

Ten degrees starboard are the twin concrete spires of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s nuclear power plant, now a fisherman's landmark. When operating at full capacity, the plant will require some 2.1 billion gallons of Chesapeake Bay water per day. The water, largely fresh, cools the plant's reactors. Then it's returned to the Bay, 10 to 20 degrees warmer than it had been.

Water temperature governs what kinds of fish and plant life can survive in an estuary. New power plant construction along the Susquchanna River, other tributaries and the Bay means that during the 1980a one of every two or three gallons of Chesapeake fresh water will be warmed by electrical generators. No scientist knows how many extra degrees the Bay can tolerate, nor does any ichthyologist know which of the Bay's 250 fish species can withstand temperature increases caused by power plants. Scientists do know, however, that warmer water speeds the growth of blue-green algae, which laymen customarily call "scum."

Just south of Chesapeake Beach, hard by the power plant, are the famed Calvert Cliffs, an archaeological dig site. From stop the cliffs, 100 feet above the Chesapeake, looking westward, an observer sees subdivisions and shopping centers encroaching through the famland. Peering over the precipice, he sees dirtslides, spillways and rubble -- the aftermath of erosion. As new subdivisions edge closer to the Chesapeake, the bayshore creeps backward toward the subdivisions, toward an ugly encounter.

Out of 7,325 miles of Bay shoreline at the highest tides, approximately 410 miles have been identified as having "critical" erosion problems (based on intensity of development and existing rate of erosion) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Over the last 100 years, approximately 25,000 acres of Maryland's shoreline and 20,000 of Virginia's have been lost to erosion, yet land needed for residential purposes is forecast to double between 1970 and 2020.

At least the archseologists see value in Calvert Cliffs' erosion. There lie the world's largest accessible deposits of Miocene fossils, plus numerous specimens from earlier and later paleontologic periods. Crocodile, sailfish, mastodon, tapir, horse and dog bones have been found, varied in layers along the cliff face. The coming and going of the ice ages explain the mix of mammals, reptiles and fish.

Sailing south from Calvert Cliffs, still paralleling the western shore, boaters see the shoreline vanish, land end, finisterre . This is the Potomac's mouth, 15 miles across. In the lee of Pt. Lookout, there's a popular public bathing beach that remains fairly free of sea nettles, even in August. Approximately 20 to 25 percent of the Chesapeake's fresh water flows down from the Potomac basin, and because it's lighter than salt water, forms a relatively thin veneer stop the Bay. More than 50 percent of all Chesapeake fresh water flows down from the Susquehanna.

The U.S. Geological Survey has calculated that on a so-called "average day," some 45 billion gallons of fresh water flow into the Bay. Scientists at Johns Hopkins' Chesapeake Bay Institute have calculated that each day a bare minimum of 400 million gallons of sewage plant effluent are pumped into the Bay.

Put the numbers together. They suggest very strongly that if you're swimming at Pt. Lookout beach, or paddling around your sailboat, one gallon per hundred that touches your body will have emerged from a sewer pipe. And this noxious ratio ignores Kepone, mercury, pesticides, herbicides and the exotic broth of chemicals that is draining, or has drained, into the Bay.

Pollution is the Chesapeake Bay's second enemy, politics is its first. Having no "residents," the Bay elects no representatives. Its champions in Washington, Annapolis and Richmond are surrogates, responsive to chemical conglomerates, bayside developers, city administrations, electric utilities and barge associations.

Outmuscled are the ecologists, the scientists, the watermen, the fishermen and the yachtsmen who -- though they lack inside clout -- possess broad public appeal. The adversaries are, of course, familiar: technology vs. ecology. Special interests vs. consumers. Setting this clash apart from others are irate" water people" and three generations of political bungling in the face of a suffering Chesapeake.

Early in 1978, the Chesapeake Bay Research Consortium compiled an admittedly incomplete directory of organizations manifesting interest in Bay affirs. Just listing the organisations required 108 pages, 12 of which were devoted to government agencies at the state, regional and local levels. The directory goes on to list 10 federal agencies and six interstate agencies with some measure of Chesapeake jurisdiction. The political bodies presumably take the pulse of 263 environmental interest and consulting groups and listen to at least 28 academic institutions.

Maryland's James B. Coulter is a respected, career civil servant, one of the few cabinetlevel holdovers from the Mandel administration. As head of the state's Natural Resources Department, Coutler told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that with regard to the Bay, "there is no single federal government." Instead, he said, Washington has spawned a family of agencies, each concerned with the Bay, each constrained by separate statutes.

Jurisdictions overlap, splitting authority. States decry federal encrouchment, and hostility results. When one law neutralizes another, there is no law at all, and that, says Coulter, is "anarchy in its classic sense."

As Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) puts it: "The Chesapeake is like a circus without a ringmaster."

Free-flowing water is contemptuous of political boundaries but reponsive to pollution. Water flowing crystal clear from a spring near Cooperstown, N.Y., the Susquehanna's birthplace, will traverse dozens of political jurisdictions, detour through factory and sewer pipes, cool machines that overheat, push tons and tons of debris southward, 400 miles, across New York and Pennsylvania. Before entering the Chesapeake, the Susquehanna River must intersect sewage districts, water districts, power districts, equeduct districts, townships, counties, states.

Each has a say in the quality of the water, as does the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and even such bureaucracies as the Interior Department, which protects the snail darter. The net result is that water moving down the 195-mile-long Chesapeake assumes an average pollution content, and no single agency controls it. Which is not to say that Chesapeake Bay scientists favor single agency control of the estuary. What most want is a system that transmits scientific fact into political action. That sewage plant effluents contain nitrates and phosphates, two primary plant foods, is, to scientists, a fact .

Nitrates and phospates entering the Bay hype the growth of blue-green algae, which blossoms into algal "carpets." These carpets absorb dissolved oxygen and join suspended sediments to shield the shallow Bay bottom from sunlight. Oxygen depletion kills fresh fish fingerlings. Lacking sunlight for pahotosynthesis, underwater plant life dies and in dying deprives finfish of their secret nurseries. Recreational boaters shun the scum-laden water. Property values shirnk. The circle closes.

It was during the 19th century that Congress began carving the Chesapeake into jurisdictional fiefdoms for federal agencies, but not until the 1960s and 1970s, when "ecology" became a political buzzword, did lawmakers shift to high gear.

The march of federal agencies onto the Bay began with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which dredges, builds and fills wherever instructed by the Pentagon. Then the Environmental Protection Agency won veto power over projects considered by the Corps.It also was empowered (in 1977) to approve runoff pollution plans drafted by the states. EPA, an independent agency, reports to the White House. Last year, Congress bypassed EPA by instructing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an arm of the Commerce Department, to develop a pollution monitoring plan, targeted against oil spills.But the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), a part of the Transportation Department, has been flying a helicopter oil spill surveillance patrol up and down the Bay since April 1973, and the Coast Guard is the lead agency in spill containment and recovery.

Washington has not decided whether theremal pollution is in fact pollution, but someday it might. Enter then the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which rules on reactor safety. The NRC is an independent agency. But its activities must mesh with those of the Commerce Department, under which NOAA administers the Coastal Zone Management Act. That statute earmarks money for the study of "energy production" in the Chesapeake, which EPA, and the U.S. Geological Survey (Interior Department) and the Corps of Engineers have long been studying.

Now President Carter threatens to collapse this bureaucratic superstructure by creating a Department of Natural Resources, creating thereby a new set of interlocking, interagency relationships for the states to master.

Lifelong students of the Bay scoff at suggestions that studies, not contaminants, are polluting the Chesapeake. Dr. L. Eugene Cronin is a biologist, former director of the University of Maryland's Natural Resources Institute, director of the Chesapeake Bay Research Consortium and co-chairman of the new Chesapeake Bay Legislative Advisory Commission. "We're not studying the Bay to death," says Dr. Cronin, "we're using it to death."

Like Dr. Cronin, Sen. Mathias sees a need for new, continuing studies because the Bay is constantly changing. And change can come with startling swiftness. To illustrate:

Perhaps the most scenic anchorages on the Bay surround the Poplar Islands, which are owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Now the Chesapeake is eroding their windward shoreline by as much as 14 feet per year. During the New Deal era, Franklin D. Roosevelt ate oysters and terrapin at Poplar Islands' once-exclusive Jefferson Islands Club, and later, Harry S Truman played poker there. Today traps catch crabs atop the Club's Poplar Islands' property. The Poplars were a single 1,000-acre island when Capt. John Smith first made landfall in 1608, and for three centuries, watermen and farmers, moonshiners and smugglers based their businesses there. Now John Smith's island has been battered into several islets totaling no more than 163 acres, and the Smithsonian's will, if judged by Smithsonian inaction, is to let the Poplars erode.

As the Bay bottom relentlessly rises, islands north and south are undergoing similiar shrinkage.

H. L. Mencken described the Bay as "an immense protein factory," and so it remains, except that the sources of Chesapeake protein vary from year to yeal and century to century.

A 1797 Maryland statute, anticipating nutritional deficiencies, proscribed feeding terrapin to slaves more than twice per week. Between 1870 and 1900, however, the superabundant diamondback turtles became a delicacy, and terrapin schooners harvested 80,000 pounds annually. The easily taken terrapins came close to extinction, just as Bay stufgeon are today. In 1928, Samuel F. Hildebrand and William C. Schroeder wrote their definitive book Fishes of Chesapeake Bay . Using 1920 as their base year, they estimated the Bay's sturgeon fishery at 300,000 pounds per year, and Chesapeake caviar was sold up and down the east coast. Springtime brought shoals of Spanish mackerel into 1920 Bay waters. No more.

Even as sturgeon, mackerel, striped bass, oyster, crab and clam catches decline in value, other species are invading the Bay to delight or dismay commercial and sports fishermen. Large bluefish (10 pounds or more), gray trout and black drum were plentiful during the 1977 and 1978 fishing seasons, but during the 1910s and 1920s, such fish were relatively scarce.

Rachel Carson documented the flow of toxic, manmade chemicals into American waterways, and her work spurred creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. With publication of Silent Spring in 1962, DDT, chlordane and dieldrin became household words. They were not before. Since Silent Spring, Kepone, triazines, linuron, alachlor, paraquat and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are receiving attention.

The point is this: while EPA is detecting, analyzing and prohibiting a toxic chemical, industry is producing new, substitute chemicals, often of equal toxicity. Detection of such chemicals is a littlenoticed but expensive, neverending war game between offender and defender.

A case in point involves cadmium, a highly toxic trace element. Whereas 30 years ago most cadmium was leached from the soil by nature, and man was relatively guiltless, most cadmium now reaches the Bay through sewage outflows. "We may be living," says Dr. Robert Huggett of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, "in that critical transition period between the time when the chemistry of the Bay was controlled by nature and the time when, for better or worse, it will be controlled by Homo sapiens ."

Poplar Islands' inundation, the disappearance of entire apecies, the appearance of new toxic chemicals and countless other rapid-fire changes transform the Bay into a biologist's nightmare. It follows that constant change demands constant study.

Problem: determining where old studies left off, defining the data base, the legacy of earlier students.

Cause: no central repository, no computerized library, no single bibliography for scientists to consult.

Result: if new Bay studies aren't to duplicate previous Bay studies, they must begin with a costly, time-consuming "literature scan" to separate knowns from unknowns.

Proof: EPA began its Chesapeake Bay Study, theoretically funded at $5 million per year, in 1976. Its first step was to examine the legal relationships and management practices of agencies at work in the Bay -- a step that consumed close to four full years. Warren K. Rich and Stuart S. Janney, two Maryland environmental lawyears, addressed EPA's delay in January before the U.S. Senate's Government Efficiency Subcommittee:

"It is hard to comprehend why EPA, at a time when the entire [Chesapeake Bay Study] is under fire for lack of accomplishment, would choose to spend the bulk of 1979 compiling and analyzing the existing system, when the bulk of that work already is done and resides on a number of bookshelves throughout the Bay area." Their joint statement pointed out that NOAA's Coastal Zone Management Program has conducted "a very similar study," as has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The River and Harbor Act of 1965, a traditional pork barrel statute, ordered the Corps to investigate and study water usage and water control in the entire Chesapeake Basin. As the bill became law, a hardy band of Maryland legislators inserted language requiring that the Corps build and maintain -- in Maryland, of course -- a miniature estuary. The Corps was less than enthusiastic over the new assignment. Its strength, it knew, was in building and dredging, not theoretical, multidisciplinary analyses. Nevertheless, the Army followed orders.

It began construction of a nine-acre, tin-roofed, hydraulic model of the Chesapeake with a scale of one to 1,000 horizontally and one to 100 vertically. Thousands of baffles, each precisely tuned (which means bent), channeled simulated Bay water around the simulated basin under the 14-acre roof. The model was "verified" in May 1978. Now the so-called "monster of Matapeake" can measure high and low tides, current speed and direction, tomperature and salinity.

Through fiscal 1979, the U.S. Army Corps of Enginers' Chesapeake Bay Study, including the hydraulic model, has cost $23.3 million. Since the study was authorized 14 years ago, the question naturally arises: What has the Corps accomplished? In 1973, without benefit of the model, it produced the massive Chesapeake Bay Existing Conditions Report .In 1977, again without the model, it produced the even more massive Chesapeake Bay Future Conditions Report -- a forecast of the year 2020. The Corps has promised Chapter III, the "final report," in 1983. In compiling their reports, the Army engineers relied heavily, if not exclusively, on data collected and compiled by other agencies. Thus the Corps played editor/librarian for researchers supplied by 10 federal agencies, four states and the District of Columbia.

Scrutinizing the Army reports is a mammoth undertaking; they stand almost a yard high. And the officers in charge seem reluctant to answer questions raised by their own publications. Judged by their summary paragraphs, however, the Army is cautiously pessimistic about the Bay's future. For example:

More than half (57 percent) of the land in the Chesapeake Bay region is covered by woodlands, forests or wetlands. An additional one-third is in agricultural uses. Only about 7 percent of the land is used for residential, commercial or industrial purposes.

The land needed for residential purposes will approximately double between 1970 and 2020. If industry is to meet projected increases in manufacturing output, it will require 50 percent more land. Conversely, acreage devoted to crops and miscellaneous farmland is expected to decrease by approximately 22 percent. Although there is sufficient land in the Bay region available for residential and industrial development, conflicts between competing land use types are likely to develop.

What the Corps left unreported is that developers add approximately four tons of silt to the Chesapeake every time they build a Bay area home.The silt increases turbidity. Turbidity blots out the sun. Without sunshine, submerged aquatic vegetation begins to die. Not only do fish fingerlings conceal themselves in the aquatic underbrush, they also feed on it. Without submerged aquatic vegetation, the Bay can no longer serve as a finfish nursery.

According to the Corps, bulk oil will dominate waterborne traffic through the minor ports and waterways around Chesapeake Bay. The largest increases are expected on the western shore due to larger increases in population and income predicted for these areas. The level of petroleum traffic is a problem because of the environmental damage wrought by spills.

But the Army engineers stopped short of drawing an obvious conclusion. Because the number of spills is increasing, so too is environmental damage. Two recent oil spills killed 5,000 and 2,000 migratory waterfowl respectively, and migratory waterfowl, ducks, geese and awans will remain vulnerable because of their flocking instincts. As early as 1967, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall was warning Senate committees that a Torrey Canyon (60 million gallons spilled) in the Chesapeake "could effectively eliminate most of the marine resources in the whole region." The Corps of Engineers' Future Conditions Report concludes that in the Chesapeake, "most of the major water quality problems occur in the estuaries of the Bay's tributaries and not in the Bay proper." Although the Corps lists sewage, pesticide, herbicide and heavy metal concentrations in several selected sites, it fails to furnish comparable data on the overall Bay. A vast network of monitoring stations would be required if scientists set out to learn the contaminant loading in, say, the main ship channel or the mouth of the Magothy River.

Consider one illustration of problems to be confronted. The Food and Drug Administration has devised a single tissue test that will detect the presence of more than 200 unwanted chemicals and heavy metals in fish flesh. Then along came Kepone. An entirely different test was required. When PCBs arrived on the scene, the FDA scientists turned to gas chromatography. One test to determine PCB concentration, and that in one fish, costs about $125 and consumes about five man-hours.

Meanwhile, back at the hydraulic model, six tests are scheduled between now and 1981. The first three concern themselves with abnormally high inflows and outflows of fresh and salt water, as might result from human usage, hurricanes or droughts. Another test will analyze how deepening Baltimore's sludge-laden harbor might affect the whole Bay. A fifth, begun in March, will study tapping the Potomac to supply Washingtonians with water. The sixth will help Maryland locate power plants so they won't injure the estuary. After 1981, no tests are scheduled.

While the Corps completes its assignments, the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program (not "study") is moving shead after a three-year standstill. After Congress, prodded by Sen. Mathias, authorized a fiveyear program funded at $5 million a year, EPA appointed a management committee which would, among other duties, review alternative management schemes for the Bay. Now note the conflicts buried neatly in gobbledygook:

EPA's deputy regional administrator, Dr. Alvin Morris, says his agency will recommend "new institutional and procedural arrangements so that federal investment ($15.8 million appropriated) leads to an effective, ongoing structure for environmental improvement throughout the Bay."

The U.S. Army's district engineer for Baltimore says that "consideration will be given to potential institutional arrangements that would be required to implement various programs" suggested by the Corps' (SECTION) 30.3 million Chesapeake Bay Study.

A new bi-state commission representing Maryland and Virginia reports that it will explore alternative Bay management arrangements, including informal cooperation, formal interstate agreements on specific topics, a bistate or multi-state commission, some sort of regional agency or a federal-interstate compact commission.

So who's to pay? Who's to perform? Who's to manage? Finally, who's to regulate? Each is a political question that demands answering before all the agencies cited by Sen. Mathias can take meaningful action.

In 1978, the states of Maryland and Virginia put together the Chesapeake Bay Legislative Advisory Commission to define with precision state and federal roles in, on and around the Bay, to study those roles and recommend changes. Formal resolutions passed by the Virginia and Maryland legislatures indicate that -- finally -- both states want to reconcile their differences on how the Chesapeake could be managed best. Creation of the commission marks the first time in history that Maryland and Virginia have legislated the entire Chesapeake Bay as an area of common interest.

Co-chairmen of the Commission are Dr. Eugene Cronin and State Sen. Joseph V. Gartland Jr., of Virginia. Ten members are Virginians, 10 are Marylanders, and together they'll march the political battleground, weighing alternative ways to coordinate Bay activity. Possibilities are limitless. Regardless, Dr. Cronin and Sen. Gartland have promised to submit their report before the two stated legislatures convene in 1980.

The real significance of the new Chesapeake Bay Legislative Advisory Commission is that it brings together the politicians of Maryland and Virginia (17 of the commission's 20 members are elected or appointed politicians), the scientists of Johns Hopkins, the Smithsonian, the University of Maryland and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, the independent foundations, environmental groups, and even the watermen themselves. Having accomplished just that much, the commission gains clout with federal agencies controlling money already appropriated to improve the Bay.

In years past, there was no real linkage between the politicians, the scientists, the environmentalists and the watermen. Now, however, Maryland, Virginia and the EPA have agreed on priority problems (see Enemies List), and EPA has begun to pump funds into related research.

Will the commission succeed? According to many precedents, it can. Lake Erie, once considered dead, now supports a valuable yellow perch fishery, and perch demand fresh water. The world's deepest fresh water lake, Baikal in the Soviet Union, has been rescued from industrial pollution. A cleanup program produced sizable salmon populations in Lake Michigan. Egyptians are eliminating parasitic worms from the Nile above the Aswan dam.

As scientists probe the Bay, they keep discovering strange if not startling facts. Fresh water springs flow into the deeper holes where, paradoxically, salt content is highest. The teeth of 3,000-pound sharks have been recovered beneath Calvert Cliffs. According to one study, the Bay's shellfish are so sensitive to radiation they can be used to detect H-bomb explosions in China and Siberia. Porpoises, harbor seals and an occasional whale also invade the Bay, swimming alongside Poseidon submarines bound for Annapolis. The land surrounding Chesapeake Bay is sinking an average one foot per century, while at Smithfield, Va., the sink rate is 18 inches per 100 years. Because salt water is heavier than fresh, and because there's more saltwater at the Bay's mouth than at Baltimore, a freighter will require a foot more water in the harbor of Maryland's chief port. And even the scientists were shocked when an angler boated two tiger sharks, 530 and 851 pounds respectively, one in the lower Bay, the other off the Bay mouth.

Sen. Mathias is fond of quoting two unnamed Chesapeake watermen. One says: "There are lots of studies being made of the Bay, but we never see many answers." Not true. Dwindling catches are the answer.

The second complains: "We have to make a living out there [yet] half the stuff we pull out is dead." True today but not yesterday.

In 1906, Capt. John Smith sailed up the Chesapeake, exploring its tributaries, cataloguing its flora and fauna, mapping the topography, trading, warring and making friends of Indians. After his return to England, Capt. Smith wrote of the Bay and the countryside: "Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places knowne, for large and pleasant navigable Rivers, heaven & earth never agreed better to frame a place for man's inhabitation." CAPTION: Picture 1, Cover photograph of the Chesapeake Bay by Bill Snead; Picture 2, no caption, By Bill Snead; Picture 3, When the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant is operating at full capacity it will require some 2.1 billion gallons of Bay water per day to cool the reactors. The returned water is 10 to 20 degrees warmer, affecting fish and plant life.; Picture 4, According to Army Corps of Engineers reports on the Bay's future, bulk oil will dominate waterborne traffic. The level of petroleum traffic is a problem because of the environmental damage wrought by spills.; Chart, Chesapeake Bay Enenies List (In Order of Priority *)