Watershed organizations representing tens of thousands of citizens throughout the Chesapeake region used the Executive Council meeting to send a strong message to leaders of the Bay restoration effort.

That message, in a nutshell, was: "we'll do our part to restore our watersheds but you have to do your part, too."

The Declaration for Our Rivers, signed by 84 watershed and environmental groups, was presented to Council members by Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Executive Director Fran Flanigan, Leslie Bowie of the Piankatank Watershed Project, Charlie Conklin of the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, and Patrick Fasano of the Octoraro Watershed Association.

"The Declaration recommits the riverkeeper organizations to being the eyes, the ears, the hands and the hearts of river protection and restoration," Flanigan said. "We're very pleased that you are here today recommitting yourselves to restoration and protection goals.

"There is a lot of work left to do, and this work requires not only the help of these grassroots organizations, but your proactive leadership," she said. "These river organizations want to work with you."

The Declaration grew out of the Watershed Watch Conference, which brought together representatives of groups throughout the Bay drainage. The July conference was organized by the Alliance and supported by the Bay Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The statement is intended to help keep watershed groups focused on restoration efforts that benefit the Bay, and on making sure that state and federal officials provide leadership and resources needed to continue the Baywide restoration effort.

Watershed groups signing the Dec-laration committed to acting as "stewards and keepers of the rivers, creeks and headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, providing watchful oversight of actions that could be harmful."

They pledged to educate themselves, their communities and elected officials about the importance of their watershed ecosystems, and to speak out when the rivers are threatened.

At the same time, the groups asked state and federal leaders to meet nutrient, habitat restoration and fisheries management goals in a timely manner. In addition, they call for adequate support for river restoration, including funds for staff, research, monitoring, restoration and regulatory protections.

They also call on states to be sure that meaningful public participation be a part of all river and watershed decision-making activities, that river coordinators be named, that complex issues of growth and development be addressed, and that leaders "show by example" that they are committed to preserving rivers and creeks, "including full enforcement of environmental protections."

Copies of the Declaration are available from the Alliance's Chesapeake Regional Information Service, 1-800-662-CRIS.