You have an important opportunity this month to weigh in on the draft Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. This document, if history is any guide, will shape the direction of the Bay restoration effort for at least the next decade. That makes the draft agreement a very important piece of paper!

The new agreement puts forth commitments on water quality, living resources, vital habitats, sound land use and community engagement. It takes some bold steps in committing to remove the Bay from the EPA list of impaired waters by 2010; increasing oyster biomass tenfold; setting harvest targets for blue crabs; reducing sediment pollution; striving for zero release of chemical contaminants.

It is timid in other areas, such as sound land use, where excellent concepts such as the protection of important resource lands and the reduction of impervious surfaces are espoused, but without measurable goals and dates.

And, it is silent on issues that could be important overall to the ultimate success of the restoration effort, such as the articulation of an ultimate goal or vision.

On balance, the draft is a remarkable piece of work, having emerged from months of public dialogue and the differing perspectives of the six signatories to the Bay Agreement.

One of the strengths of the work undertaken here is the fact that the goals are developed collaboratively. The partnership aspect of this program is truly what sets it apart from multiple other, often better funded, resource management projects.

The signers of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement are anticipating a June signing ceremony.

You, as a citizen and/or representative of an interested constituency, have until March 31 to get your comments on the record. It would be useful to hear specifically what parts of the current draft you think are good; where you think strengthening language could be added; what you think should be deleted; and finally, which issues that are not addressed should be included.

There is a packet that contains the draft agreement, some background material and a response form. This packet can be mailed to you if you call either 1-800-968-7229 or 1-800-662-CRIS. You can also find this information on the Bay Program web site: where you can fill out the response form online if you wish.

The deadline for comments is March 31. This is one of those relatively rare times when your advice can really make a difference.

We hope you will take a few minutes to respond.