A new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is in the works. From the day it is signed, this agreement will become the guide for the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) partners — the six Bay watershed states, District of Columbia, Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay Commission. It will be the foundation for how these partners collectively pursue restoration, conservation, protection and stewardship efforts across the region. If you want a say in how the Chesapeake Bay, your local river, and even the region's landscape will look in coming decades, now is your time to be heard.

The agreement has been in the works for more than a year and a half, and is the result of countless conversations between senior officials who represent the diverse perspectives in the partnership, advisory groups, non-governmental organizations and others. We are fast approaching the end of the 45-day public comment period —March 17 — when the second and final opportunity for public input closes. As of this writing, CBP partners have received more than one-thousand comments on the new draft Watershed Agreement, and they come from many perspectives. While it isn’t appropriate for me to tackle them here, a handful have said things like “Enough talk, it’s time for action.”

While I personally abhor talking for talking’s sake, conversations are an effective way to communicate our thoughts and ideas to develop a common understanding. Talking is what makes us uniquely human. It plays a central role in all of our ongoing relationships. Some say, it’s disappearing as an art. “Talk, talk, talk” is critical if we are going to restore clean, healthy waters in the region. Talk that crosses state lines, talk that transcends one-state or one-time silver bullet solutions, talk by concerned and informed citizens, communities and elected leaders across the region.

Yes, we need to take action, all of us, and do the things needed to restore the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. However, the best results do not usually come from random, unplanned actions. Instead, they arise from well-thought-out, collaborative activities supported by in-depth discussions and sound strategies. This kind of consensus and understanding —or agreement — across political boundaries comes from talk and strengthens our sense of responsibility to each other and the watershed’s many resources. And it focuses our attention and energies on a shared purpose.

All of the current planning for and talking about the Bay’s future has been critical in writing an agreement for the watershed that all of the partners can support. As we work from this foundation in the years to come, ongoing clear, deliberate communications and conversations will continue to be a lynchpin of making progress toward our goals. Our scientific understanding of this complex ecosystem will be ever-improving and evolving, and our decisions and restoration choices will need to do the same.

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s countless conversations — on fisheries, habitats, water quality, healthy watersheds, public access and environmental literacy — have led to as many positive outcomes over the last 30 years. Where wastewater treatment plants have been upgraded, underwater grasses have come back; when the best possible conservation practices are used on agricultural lands, water quality in streams improves; when states and experts work together, we see treasured species, such as brook trout, shad, rockfish or crabs return.

Collaboration and communication are vital to making progress toward healthy lands, rivers and streams that make up the Bay ecosystem. The damage to this system took place over more than a century — it won’t be fixed overnight. We must be patient and persistent. The CBP partners want to hear from interested citizens, stakeholders and communities because each of us has an important part to play in this new agreement and in the future of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is important that you share your thoughts and ideas on the new Bay Watershed Agreement with us so they can be considered for the final version.

Read the agreement and share your comments with us at www.chesapeakebay.net/watershedagreement before March 17. And keep talking with us in the years to come. It matters.