The health of estuaries affects the vitality of fishing, tourism and recreational boating. The total exceeds hundreds of billions of dollars.


Fish Trawl Survey by Richard Howard - Long Island Sound River Otter by Gail Cohen - Indian River Lagoon

Association of National Estuary Programs


Partnership for the Delaware Estuary - Gandy's Beach Restoration

In a program with a strong history of leveraging funds, enhanced federal funding will allow the NEPs to attract new sources of funding to help restore and protect our nation's vital estuaries. This is important given the population growth and other stresses on the estuary ecosystems and coastal communities. The NEPs are already focused on emerging issues such as controlling invasive species, coping with harmful algal blooms and sea level rise planning. With enhanced funding, the NEPs will meet the current and future demands for positive action while continuing to strengthen community partnerships that address local issues.

Partnerships formed within each of the NEPs build bridges between local and state organizations focused on collaborative goals and practical needs.

National Estuary Program Overview on the US EPA Website

Clean Water Act

In 1987, the U.S. Congress amended the Clean Water Act and produced a far-sighted piece of public policy. Section 320 of the 1987 Clean Water Act (CWA) created the National Estuary Program (NEP) to identify, protect and restore "estuaries of national significance." Section 320 was subsequently updated in the Estuaries and Clean Waters Act of 2000.

Now located within 28 different watersheds nationwide, the NEP is recognized as a model for building partnerships to protect the coastal environment, sustain coastal economies, and improve our quality of life. These partnerships are guided by citizen and intergovernmental management committees attuned to local needs and priorities.


Florida Blenny (photo by Jimmy White)

Florida Blenny (photo by Jimmy White)

NEP Features:

The 28 estuaries in the NEP host locally-based, stakeholder-driven programs that are non-regulatory and collaborative.

The NEPs have generated nearly $4 billion for on-the-ground efforts since 2003 focused on restoration projects and water quality enhancement.

The NEP offers an effective method of protecting and managing all types of watershed environments based on a track record spanning more than two decades.

Collectively, across the nation, the NEPs have restored and protected more than 1,100,000 acres of estuarine and watershed habitat.


Funding for the National Estuary Program

Protecting and restoring our nation's coasts and estuaries is critical for our environment and economy. More than 42 percent of the continental U.S. shoreline is included in the NEP, and 15 percent of all Americans live within NEP watersheds. The National Estuary Program is a time-tested, non-regulatory program that uses a consensus-building process to identify goals, objectives, and actions that reflect local environmental and economic priorities. The ongoing effort ensures that decisions are based on the best science available.

In 2002, Congress reauthorized the National Estuary Program, along with other EPA coastal watershed initiatives, to receive $35 million annually. Investing this full amount in the stewardship of our nation's coastal resources is a national investment. In recent years, the President has requested, and Congress has approved approximately $27 million for the NEP and Coastal Watersheds, with $600,000 for each NEP. This provides a strong base for ongoing stewardship of vital estuaries that also serve as economic drivers for coastal communities.

Protecting and restoring our coasts and estuaries has never been more important for our environment and economy. Estuaries provide habitat for more than 75 percent of America's commercial fish catch, and 80-90 percent of the recreational fish catch. Estuarine-dependent fisheries are extremely valuable, with an estimated annual worth of $1.9 billion nationwide.

The NEPs protect and enhance ecological and economic health of our most important estuaries by restoring or creating more than 1.1 million habitat acres, and maintaining strong partnerships among federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, and other community stakeholders. Fully funding this program to provide at least $1 million per NEP is an investment of taxpayer dollars; an investment that can be leveraged by state, local, and private sector contributions. The Program yields tangible improvements to ecology and the economy of our coastal communities.

Reauthorization of the National Estuary Program

Long Island Sound Estuary Program (photo by Suzy Allman)

Long Island Sound Estuary Program
(photo by Suzy Allman)

Authorization of Section 320 of the Clean Water Act (the National Estuary Program) had expired in 2010. In June 2015, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) introduced legislation, cosponsored by Senator David Vitter (LA), to re-authorize the National Estuary Program (NEP). The bill, S.1523, was titled "A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program, and for other purposes." On May 20, 2016, Senate bill 1523 became Public Law No: 114-162.

Current Bills in 115th Congress relevant to the NEPs

Stay tuned.