New federal bill looks at Estuary Partnership Resiliency

Photo of San Francisco Estuary

Reauthorization legislation could assist with programs

The Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act, a bipartisan bill which would reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP), was introduced last week by U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ).

The NEP, a place-based program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, supports a network of local organizations working to enhance water quality and ecological function within 28 “estuaries of national significance” across the country, including the San Francisco Bay-Delta.

“The NEP makes it possible for us to tackle the urgent challenge of climate change by leveraging resources and partnerships throughout the San Francisco Estuary,” said Caitlin Sweeney, director of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership.

The National Estuary Program is currently set to expire in 2021. Malinowski’s bill would update the program by increasing funding to the estuaries and ensuring that regional estuary management plans include adaptation strategies to cope with recurring extreme weather events, which are projected to become more frequent and more severe over the coming century due to climate change. Specifically, this would allow NEP grants to fund organizations working to address stormwater runoff, coastal resiliency, and accelerated land loss due to sea level rise or erosion.

“Expanding this program to include planning for extreme weather events is crucial for building resiliency in our communities,” Sweeney said.

The San Francisco Estuary Blueprint, a 35-year Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, serves as the guiding document for regional efforts to protect and restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem. The Estuary Partnership is an ABAG program staffed by MTC that is responsible for implementing the Estuary Blueprint by coordinating habitat restoration, green infrastructure, climate resiliency, and community stewardship projects with local partner agencies in the nine-county area surrounding the Estuary.

Congress first authorized the NEP in 1987 through an amendment to the Clean Water Act, and it established the Partnership the very next year after naming the San Francisco Bay-Delta as an estuary of national significance. Since then, the coalition has led projects such as a Flood Control 2.0 toolbox that integrates habitat enhancement into flood risk planning, a series of multi-benefit urban greening projects in the South Bay, and a boater outreach and monitoring program to reduce pollution in key areas throughout the Bay-Delta. 

The bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, but a vote hasn’t been scheduled.