Turning The Tide On Estuary Health

2019-07-01T13:29:30+00:00 July 1, 2019|
(Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/U.S. Department of Commerce)

(Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/U.S. Department of Commerce)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing titled, “Protecting and Restoring America’s Iconic Waters.”

Why It Matters

Estuaries are critical to the ecological and economic health of coastal communities. Almost 80 percent of fish caught recreationally or commercially depend on these watersheds for a portion of their lives, and commercial fishing — along with other coastal industries, such as ports and harbors, shipping, and tourism — accounts for several million jobs and contributes billions in revenue annually. However, stress from climate change, pollution, and human development is negatively affecting these waters. Healthy coastal areas buffer the impacts of extreme weather events and ensure coastal resiliency. By restoring and protecting our estuaries and coastal areas, physical and economic damage from hurricanes and other storm events to our communities will be lessened.

Key Points

Subcommittee members and witnesses discussed potential negative impacts of federal funding cuts to or elimination of programs that focus on protecting estuaries, bays, and other coastal waters as proposed in the president’s budget request. One program proposed for elimination is the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program (NEP), which is composed of 28 regional organizations that monitor and protect local environments. Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (AR-4) stated his support for the NEP due to its focus on stakeholder involvement in creating solutions for local problems. Mr. Tom Ford (Director, Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program and The Bay Foundation) echoed these thoughts and positively described the NEP’s role in building consensus on actions to restore the Santa Monica Bay. He shared that the Santa Monica Bay NEP has built trust in the community through effective engagement of all stakeholders in decision-making.

Ms. Laura Blackmore (Executive Director, Puget Sound Partnership) explained that while on the surface, Puget Sound looks beautiful, its health is rapidly declining. She detailed several species found off the coast of Washington, including the southern resident orcas and Chinook salmon, that are listed under the Endangered Species Act and explained how pollution from toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the bay are negatively impacting them. The Puget Sound Partnership was established out of concern for the health of the ecosystem and is also a part of the NEP. Ms. Blackmore outlined the Action Agenda for Puget Sound, a plan for protection and restoration. Ms. Blackmore stated that as a program, they know what needs to be done for recovery, but their primary barrier is lack of reliable funding.

Other witnesses also emphasized the need for federal funding and support of estuary health initiatives, stating that state and local resources alone are not enough. Mr. William Baker (President, Chesapeake Bay Foundation) described how federal investment in pollution-reduction measures has encouraged states to participate. The cross-state jurisdiction of the federal government is also important to ensure that all states that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed — not just the ones bordering the bay — meet their targets in pollution reduction.

Quotable

“There is a lot of talk about the tropical forests as the lungs of the world, well the estuaries are the beating heart of a healthy marine ocean system.”— Chairman Peter DeFazio (OR-4)

“Estuaries are unique and highly productive waters that are important to the ecological and economic bases of our nation.  Fisheries, wildlife, recreation, and tourism are heavily dependent on healthy estuarine systems.  For example, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin in Louisiana is home to 22 essential habitats, and its fisheries provide much of the seafood harvested along the Gulf Coast. Yet, despite their value, most estuaries in the United States have experienced stress from physical alteration and pollution, often resulting from development and rapid population growth in coastal areas.”— Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (AR-4)

Next Steps

The House passed an Interior-EPA appropriation bill that includes $85 million for the federal Chesapeake Bay Program in FY 2020.

Several members of Congress have already or are planning to introduce legislation to authorize programs supporting estuary health in their state or district. Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-2) introduced the Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1620) to reauthorize and increase funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, while Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14) introduced the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act (H.R. 1132) to address pollution issues in San Francisco Bay.

Ms. Blackmore supported passing the Promoting United Government Efforts To Save Our Sound (PUGET SOS) Act of 2019 (H.R. 2247), introduced by Congressman Denny Heck (WA-10), which would authorize $50 million in funding for the watershed’s recovery.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (CA-32) also shared that she is expecting to see legislation later this Congress to address the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the NEP.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership          

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