So, here I am, pen in hand, drafting another commentary about local government and the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.

While preparing to write this column, I came across another I wrote for the Bay Journal, “ Local governments must share responsibility, efforts for Bay cleanup,” (February 2007). It cited several things that needed to be done to accelerate watershed protection at the local level, including clear strategies for local governments; an accelerated outreach program, funded by both federal and state funds, to address the technical and financial needs of local governments; state or regional leadership in generating creative financing solutions at the local level; more peer-to-peer assistance among local governments; and a unified voice before Congress and the respective state legislatures focusing on successful programs that can help local governments meet their responsibilities. It’s fair to say that these are all relevant today. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on Groundhog Day.

Just to be clear, this is no criticism of the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership. As chair of the Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Executive Council, I am well aware of the countless hours that have been devoted to this effort at the federal and state levels. Never before, though, have I seen such a concerted effort to engage those of us working at the local level.

The challenge Bay Program partners face, I believe, is conveying the opportunities for, and benefits of, collaboration to everyone involved, internally and externally.

To those who have not been engaged, the organizational infrastructure — some might say bureaucracy — of the Bay Program is daunting to say the least. LGAC’s immediate past chair, Sheila Noll, in an effort to better understand the organization, estimated that there are almost 400 positions (staff and volunteer) within the partnership, from the Executive Council at the top of the structure, down to the goal implementation teams and their workgroups, where the smallest of details is addressed.

Add to that the 1,800 or so units of local government and the 600-plus mostly volunteer organizations in the watershed and you begin to get a sense of the enormity of the task of engaging people working at the local level. This is no small feat — but we need each other to get the job done!

If the Bay Program partnership is going to be successful in engaging local governments, it must listen to what is important in our communities, then find a way to connect to those issues.

In most communities, that means highlighting the economic benefits associated with watershed protection and restoration efforts. For example, the new watershed agreement calls for expanding public access to the Bay and its tributaries. This may mean providing a new trail or boat launch in partnership with a community whose priority is increasing tourism. In this case, the Bay Program gets closer to its goal of creating 300 new public access sites and the community gets a boost to its local economy.

Bay Program partners and the community can work together to develop strategies to address challenges, such as long-term maintenance.

Likewise, if local governments are going to be successful in efforts to protect the places we treasure and the natural resources that we depend on for our daily existence, we need to step up and make the necessary investments of time, talent and resources.

Now is the time to look for opportunities to collaborate, not only with neighboring communities but with regional, state and federal partners to meet our collective goals.

Fortunately for those of us working in local government, it isn’t imperative that we have a thorough understanding of how the Bay Program partnership works, but it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the organization, as this is where many decisions on the allocation of resources are made.

Which brings me to the topic of management strategies. These plans for achieving the goals and outcomes contained in the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement are being drafted and will be released for public input this month.

Some of these plans rely on local governments, watershed organizations or others working at the local level to achieve the desired outcome, as the actions that must be taken can only be done locally. Each plan should outline the steps to be taken to engage local governments in achieving the goal and identifying the actions, tools and technical support needed.

Tree planting is an area where I see tremendous opportunity — and need — for collaboration among local, state and federal governments, nonprofit organizations and individual citizens.

There are so many benefits to planting trees: meeting national ambient air quality standards, lowering energy costs and reducing stormwater runoff. Is tree planting a priority in your community? If so, what actions, tools and technical support do you need to become a partner in this effort?

If you’re ready to take the next step toward becoming a more healthy and vibrant community, I encourage you to go to chesapeakebay.net and review the management strategies that align with your community’s priorities and then let us know how we can partner to achieve our collective goals.

The Chesapeake Bay Program partners have acknowledged that they can’t do this job without us. So, when Groundhog Day rolls around again, rather than simply seeing the shadow of state and federal government looming over us, we anticipate celebrating new partnerships springing up throughout the watershed.

We really can’t wait six more weeks, six more years or six more decades!