National Estuary Program

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EPA infographic about protecting estuaries

In the United States, the National Estuary Program (NEP) provides grants to states where governors have identified nationally significant estuaries that are threatened by pollution, land development, or overuse. Governors have identified a total of 28 estuaries, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awards grants to these states to develop comprehensive management plans to restore and protect the estuaries. Congress created the NEP in the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act.[1]

Program organization[edit]

Map of 28 local estuary programs

The National Estuary Program is made up of 28 smaller organizations set up regionally by estuary. Each of the estuary organizations is managed by local community leaders and staff. Participating organizations may include universities, local non-profit organizations, and state and local government agencies. It is the job of the NEP to help communities better protect, restore and maintain their estuaries. Unlike traditional environmental governance approaches, the NEP targets a broader range of issues and participates more effectively in local communities.

Before establishment of the national program, some small local grassroots organizations pursued environmental improvement efforts in various regions of the country, with limited effect. The programs now focus not just on improving water quality in an estuary, but on maintaining the integrity of the system as a whole. If all parts of the estuary are not addressed it will be unable to balance the changes and may ecologically collapse, doing more harm than good. That includes chemical, physical, and biological properties, as well as its economic, recreational, and aesthetic public values. This allows communities that live in watersheds to have local as well as national protection.[2]

EPA provides annual funding and technical assistance to the local estuary programs.[2]

Common challenges addressed by local programs[edit]

Each of the participating coastal areas has suffered varying degrees of impacts with regard to water quality and habitat decline. Many of the local estuary programs have initiated projects in one or more of the following problem categories.

Local programs[edit]

Transparency concerns[edit]

Concerns have been raised about the transparency of at least one local National Estuary Program, with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission which is funded by United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with required California Governor approval, having been found by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge to have violated the California Public Records Act.[6]


  1. ^ United States. Water Quality Act of 1987, Pub.L. 100–4, sec. 317. Approved February 4, 1987. 33 U.S.C. § 1330
  2. ^ a b "Overview of the National Estuary Program". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2016-08-25.
  3. ^ "How the National Estuary Programs Address Environmental Issues". EPA. 2017-04-27.
  4. ^ Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Thibodaux, LA
  5. ^ Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, Sebastian, FL.
  6. ^ Press Release, 2016. "Court Rules EPA Funded National Estuary Program Violated Transparency Laws".

External links[edit]