Watershed groups throughout the Chesapeake drainage are calling on the Chesapeake Executive Council to reaffirm its commitment to meeting nutrient reduction goals in a timely manner and to provide adequate support for river protection and restoration efforts.

The "Declaration for Our Rivers" is a pledge from local watershed organizations to "act as the stewards and keepers" of creeks and rivers in the region, while asking for a similar commitment from the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the EPA administrator, the mayor of the District of Columbia and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, who make up the Executive Council.

"It's really a statement of principle," said Fran Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, who was the primary author of the declaration.

"It's obviously a nonbinding thing," she said, "but as we've seen with other statements like that which have come out of the Bay Program, just the nature of the signers and the visibility with which the thing gets promoted often can make it have quite a lot of impact."

The goal is to have at least 100 watershed groups sign the declaration before it is presented to the Executive Council, possibly at its Oct. 30 meeting.

Increasingly, officials have come to realize that restoring the Bay means cleaning up the 110,000 miles of rivers and creeks and streams that flow into it, and that mobilizing grassroots support is an effective way to make that happen.

Recognizing this, the U.S. Senate has approved a $750,000 program, proposed by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, that would provide small grants to local governments, watershed groups and others in local river restoration efforts. Whether the money becomes available depends on upcoming negotiations in a House-Senate conference committee.

And the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory panel representing the legislatures of the three Bay states, approved a resolution at its Sept. 12 meeting calling on the Executive Council to create a "Community Watershed Initiative." Under the initiative, the Bay Program would provide local watershed management efforts with educational, technical, scientific and financial support to help restoration efforts.

All the efforts would bolster the role of the hundreds of watershed organizations which flourish throughout the Bay watershed, and would help them develop restoration programs that will aid both their local waterways and the Chesapeake.

"We're trying to figure out how you can focus and organize all this local energy that exists in these river groups and bring it to bear on larger problems," Flanigan said.

The river declaration was originally presented to groups at the Watershed Watch Conference, which took place in July. The conference, organized by the Alliance and supported by the Bay Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, brought together more than 150 people from more than 50 watershed groups.

"There was general enthusiasm for the idea of having this group, as a group, issue a statement like that," Flanigan said.

The declaration, she said, could serve as a focal point around which groups would track progress and commitment, both with their own efforts, and those by state and federal agencies. Flanigan said annual conferences may be needed to help bring people from different areas to exchange ideas, success stories, get the latest information about Baywide restoration issues and review implementation of the declaration.

Watershed organizations that would like to sign the document should contact Fran Flanigan at the Alliance, 410-377-6270.