National Estuary Program: A Collaborative Approach to Protecting Coastal Water Quality

Estuaries are coastal bays or rivers and their freshwater tributaries. These waterways provide resources for diverse uses including commerce, public infrastructure, and recreation. The Clean Water Act Amendments of 1987 ( P.L. 100-4 ) established the National Estuary Program to identify nationally significant estuaries that are threatened by pollution, land development, or overuse, and to award grants that support the development of comprehensive management plans to restore and protect them. State governors can nominate estuaries within their states to be admitted into the National Estuary Program, and a total of 28 estuaries have been admitted thus far. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborates with other federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profit institutions, industry, and citizens to address an estuary's environmental problems. Appropriations for the National Estuary Program have ranged from an initial funding level of $11.1 million in FY1987 to a high of $17.9 million in FY1992. The current funding level for FY2001 is $13.8 million, the same amount as enacted for FY2000. The Clean Water Act Amendments of 1987 originally authorized funding for the National Estuary Program through FY1991, but Congress continued to fund it through FY2000 without enacting reauthorizing legislation. The 106th Congress enacted the Estuaries and Clean Waters Act of 2000 ( P.L. 106-457 ), which reauthorized the program at $35 million annually from FY2001 to FY2005. The law also amended the Clean Water Act to allow funding to be used for implementing as well as developing estuary management plans. Apart from the National Estuary Program, P.L. 106-457 also authorized a total of $275 million in matching funds from FY2001 to FY2005 for a new estuary habitat restoration program to be carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. The goal of the program is to restore 1 million acres of estuary habitat by 2010. It would be a new potential source of funding for implementing approved management plans under the National Estuary Program. However, the total funding level of $275 million is an authorized amount, which still must be appropriated by Congress before it would become available. While geographic and demographic factors differ among estuaries in the National Estuary Program, many of them share the following environmental problems: eutrophication, contamination from toxic substances and pathogens, habitat loss, altered freshwater inflows, and endangered and non-native species. Common sources of these problems include industrial pollution, wastewater overflows, stormwater and agricultural runoff, waste from boaters and swimmers, land development, and freshwater diversion. EPA has approved the management plans for 22 estuaries in the National Estuary Program, and many interests are working together to address the above environmental problems. While the program's collaborative nature offers flexibility, achieving results can require significantly more time than instituting conventional regulatory measures. Its long-term success will depend on the continued participation, commitment, and resources of the stakeholders in each locality.