Charles Evans wants you to think about the dingy waters of the Chesapeake Bay, filled with raw sewage and dying wildlife.

And then he wants you to take a big swig of water.

Not from the bay, of course. That would be disgusting.

Evans, director of development for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, hopes the plight of the polluted Chesapeake will prompt Washington area residents to buy bottled water. The proceeds will then help fund the multibillion-dollar cleanup of the estuary.

The bottles, which go on sale this weekend in 43 stores across the region, are the first project of the Chesapeake Bay Recovery Partnership, a new venture between the state and the nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership. The group says 11.9 cents from the sale of each bottle will benefit bay cleanup.

But won't some people fear that the bottled liquid is actually from the dirty depths of the bay?

"Are you kidding?" Evans said. "Anyone who is at all familiar with the bay knows that we haven't seen water this clear in the bay since John Smith's days."

Early focus groups, though, apparently didn't know that. Evans said they couldn't discern the water's provenance from the bottle's original design, which said "RESTORE the Chesapeake Bay."

Acting swiftly to make sure consumers didn't think they were buying a bottle of the polluted bay, state officials decided to make the bottle's label more direct. In bright yellow letters it now declares: "Natural Spring Water."

It isn't just any H2O. The water is from the Brick House Spring in Ellicott City, which in 1994 won first prize in the bottled noncarbonated category of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. For aquaphiles, that's a big deal.

"It's great water," Evans said. "It's cool and refreshing. . . . I think it tastes great."

It's hard not to think of the Chesapeake when you look at the bottle. On the back of each container is a rendering of scampering crabs, a clump of oysters or a school of striped bass wriggling through sea grass.

On the front it reads: "Your purchase will help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay for future generations."

State officials hope to raise $180,000 from sales of the bottles next year. "That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 cases," Evans said. At 24 bottles a case, that comes to more than 1.4million bottles next year.

They want to raise more than twice that amount -- $400,000 -- in the years that follow.

Will the state wage a mass-marketing campaign to persuade people to buy the water?

Not quite. An advertising blitz apparently would cost too much.

"We need to have it spread by word of mouth," Evans said.