The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is slated to get increased federal funding this year, though less than advocates had been hoping for just a few months ago.
The $1.5 trillion “omnibus” funding package, which finances the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year, was signed by President Biden on March 15 and will boost spending for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis to $88 million this year.
That’s up from $87.5 million last year but is less than the $3 million increase that the Biden administration and many advocacy groups had requested.
The Bay Program Office coordinates the federal-state partnership that conducts monitoring, computer modeling, and research efforts related to Chesapeake restoration efforts. More than two-thirds of the money goes toward grants related to cleanup activities.
But the annual spending bill doesn’t provide the full picture of federal funding for the Bay. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress last year provided an additional $238 million for the Bay Program over five years — including $46.7 million this year — though the EPA has yet to determine how that money will be spent. Many other Bay-related initiatives will benefit from the infrastructure bill, but most of those funding decisions have not been made either.
Meanwhile, this year’s omnibus spending package also included $4 million for the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense (WILD) initiative. That is a competitive grant program created in 2020 to support local efforts to conserve wetlands, reduce pollution, and restore fish and wildlife habitats. This is the first time that funding has been allocated for the program, but it is less than the $15 million advocates had hoped for.
“Thriving habitat is vital to the health of the Bay watershed, and Chesapeake WILD will make much-needed investments in restoration projects across the region,” said Denise Stranko, federal executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She added that the organization “is eager to see [Chesapeake WILD] get a larger budget increase in the fiscal year 2023 so watershed communities can take full advantage of this new funding source.”
The spending package also includes a nationwide increase from $734 million to $760 million in funding to provide technical assistance for farmers who want to take part in U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs. Increased funding for such one-on-one farmer assistance is considered essential to boost participation in those programs.
The package also includes $2 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund money to protect Fones Cliffs, part of the Rappahannock River National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. Fones Cliffs have been a high priority for conservation groups in recent years.
Reed Perry, the Chesapeake Conservancy’s manager of external affairs, called the site “a treasure and an important part of the ancestral lands of the Rappahannock Tribe. This funding will help to protect this iconic and endangered landscape and preserve a vital part of the Chesapeake’s history and culture.”
The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office will receive $3 million for its Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails program, which provides financial and technical support for water access projects, educational programming, and interpretation of the Bay’s natural, cultural and historical resources.
In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers is receiving $3.88 million for Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration in Maryland and Virginia rivers.
The Corps is also getting $30 million for Anacostia Watershed restoration work, which will be used to restore 7 miles of instream habitat, open 4 miles for fish passage and connect 14 miles to previously restored stream reaches in Prince George’s County, MD.
This article was oringally published on The Bay Journal.