Endangered Dollars ­Rescued for 2018

How those federal millions help the Bay

National Park Service funding has helped Sultana Education Foundation in Chestertown develop programs to reach thousands of students and get people out on the water.
      When the federal budget request for 2018 proposed to eliminate funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office, Bay-lovers were alarmed. The EPA’s Bay program is “the glue that holds the state/federal partnership together,” in the analysis of Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker. EPA program office money is the primary source of support for coordinating, monitoring and modeling progress toward Bay restoration.
       The 2018 federal spending bill, finally adopted on March 23, provided the full $73 million that supports that EPA office. The National Park Service’s Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Network also received $2 million — after months of worry it would be cut by half. Local officials, people and critters living in the 64,000-square-mile watershed of the Chesapeake can breathe a sigh of relief.
       Better make that a short sigh.
       These victories may be shortlived, as the 2018 budget year is already half over and the programs supporting Bay restoration and use are again at risk for the 2019 budget.
      Just what are we talking about keeping — or losing?
 
Where the Money Hits the Ground — and Water
       The Bay’s challenges cover a vast watershed in six states and the District of Columbia. Solutions to those challenges are on the ground: in small stream valleys, farms, back yards and on the water with kids out for paddling adventures. 
       EPA’s annual millions are the primary source of support for the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, which provides grants for local watershed improvement projects. 
       For example, Stewardship grants support one-on-one work with farmers of the Upper Potomac watershed in Maryland and West Virginia to save the Bay while improving their productivity. Helping reach those goals are Best Management Practices that include installing forested riparian buffers and fences to keep cows out of streams, stabilizing streambanks, restoring pastures and wetlands and converting cornfields to grazing pastures.
      Grants to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are supporting the Rhode to Restoration project to construct two acres of oyster reef in the Rhode River and bring more people in to get to know the Bay by doing the work.
        Another grant is putting rain gardens — deep-rooted native plants that filter runoff — in Baltimore City, training stormwater stewards to maintain the spaces and connect city people to the Bay. In previous years, grants have installed demonstration wildlife habitats on Baltimore school grounds.
       “We know that getting people to care about the Bay depends on getting them to the water,” says Chesapeake Conservancy’s Joel Dunn. “To make sure people are empowered to protect the Bay, we must ensure that they have access to it.”
       To do just that, the National Park Service Gateways and Trails program works with more than 250 parks, refuges, fishing and hunting sites, land and water trails, historic sites and communities. That money installs trails, signs and launch ramps to bring people to the water and supports programs to teach them about the resource. 
       As of 2017, we have 154 new water access sites thanks in part to that money. National Park Service grants helped plant the seeds that have blossomed into programs reaching schools all across Maryland, bringing thousands of kids and adults each year out on the water to learn about the Bay’s history, culture and science. 
       The entire Gateways program is at risk in 2019, with a zero budget request coming from the administration.
       Funding for several programs was preserved this year with support from the congressional delegations from all six states, according to Peter Marx of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, which represents more than 230 member organizations and advocates for Chesapeake Bay restoration. Even the delegation from faraway New York helped. 
       “They recognized that grants supporting stream restoration in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River provide local flood and erosion control benefits as well as help for water quality downstream in the Chesapeake,” Marx said.
        All that good continues for another six months because, as Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin said, “nearly every elected official in the watershed, regardless of political party affiliation, knows and appreciates what the Bay provides us. Strong local economies. Flourishing wildlife populations. Recreational opportunities. Our regional identity.”
      This is a good time to thank the senators and congressmen you sent to Washington for supporting investments in the health of the Chesapeake for 2018. Thank them now, and demand the support continue in the years ahead. 
      Find your senator and congressman at www.govtrack.us/congress/
members/MD.
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