The Chesapeake Bay is in trouble--and some extraordinarily tough recommendations have just been made in a report that could become significant in the coming months. In what it sets forth as "strong medicine," this report--prepared and labeled "for discussion only" for the Maryland General Assembly's Environmental Matters Committee--proposes to tax polluters directly for what they put into the bay, to tax sports fishermen for what they take out of it and to make growing counties pay all the costs of any new or expanding sewage treatment systems needed along with any development.

Legislators are likely to modify these proposals, as well as to see how they do or do not mesh with a separate package of initiatives due from Gov. Hughes in preparation for a winter "bay summit" meeting with the governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania. But the report may be just the legislative jolt needed to produce some measurable improvements, including a reduction in the amount of phosphorus going into the bay and contributing to the growth of algae that in turn are linked to the killing of oysters and underwater grass beds.

The report is talking money, too--some $280 million in state funds over the next 20 years to improve sewage plants, over and above local spending for new development. In return, there would be surcharges on dog licenses and lawn fertilizers to pay for the recreating of marshes and grasses, licenses on all sport fishermen and strict allocations of seafood resources among private and commercial interests.

Just another report? Maybe, just maybe, not: there does seem to be a growing legislative (you read that, "political") recognition that the bay is in critical condition and that it is a natural resource worthy of federal and interstate help in preserving and restoring it. It will be up to Gov. Hughes, Gov. Robb and Gov. Thornburgh, along with the leaders of the legislatures, to see that, for once, something serious gets done.