Direct federal spending on the Chesapeake restoration efforts does not appear to be significantly affected in the Clinton administration’s budget plan for 2000, with some federal Bay offices getting slight increases while others are slated for slight reductions.
The spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 calls for significant increases in some pollution control efforts, such as the Clean Water Action Plan, which should help the Chesapeake. Also, the administration’s new Lands Legacy Initiative and Livability Agenda will likely support land preservation, habitat and other programs in the watershed.
For the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, the budget calls for a slight increase of $19,300 above last year’s request. Though not huge, the request of $18.9 million represents the first increase for the Bay Program, after several years of decline, since 1996.
The budget did not include money for Small Watershed Grants, but money for that program — which has made $750,000 available both last year and this year to help local governments and citizen groups with restoration projects — has always originated Congress.
Historically, about half of the Bay Program money goes to the states to implement Bay-related programs, while about a third is awarded on a competitive basis to universities, local governments and nonprofit organizations to support research, pollution prevention programs, citizen outreach efforts, toxics reductions and other activities. The remainder supports core activities such as water quality monitoring, modeling and the operation of the Bay Program Office in Annapolis.
The budget also proposes spending $1.5 million on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office next year. Although the administration has proposed that level of funding for several years in a row, Congress has consistently approved more — last year $1.89 million.
The NOAA office supports research on fisheries, toxicants and algal blooms, and has been a leader in habitat restoration, sustainable communities, the study of atmospheric deposition of pollution and basinwide data analysis and management.
Although no firm figure exists for U.S. Geological Survey activities on the Bay, its core water quality programs are being supported at a stable level, while funding is being reduced for its fish health studies — which have been examining the causes of lesions in menhaden and striped bass in the Bay — and for studies aimed at understanding the long-term ecological changes that have taken place in the Chesapeake.
Beyond the direct funding of Bay offices, the budget calls for stable or increased funding for a variety of programs that would benefit Bay restoration efforts under the Clean Water Action Plan, initiated last year to help control runoff pollution.
The budget seeks $200 million for grants under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act to fund runoff control projects in the states. That’s the same amount that was approved for 1999, but is nearly a 100 percent increase from previous years.
Besides the section 319 grants, the budget proposal also calls for making runoff control grants from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Historically, the fund — expected to amount to $800 million this year — has made low-interest loans for wastewater treatment plant upgrades. In recent years, money from the fund has been used to make low-interest loans for runoff control programs as well.
Beginning next year, the administration proposes allowing some of those funds — up to $157 million — to be used for grants for runoff control and estuary management projects. Under the proposal, the grants could pay for up to 60 percent of the cost for stream restoration, stormwater management, septic system improvements, animal waste storage facilities, the implementation of farm runoff controls, the restoration of tidal marshes and similar projects. The other 40 percent could be matched with Section 319 money.
Wastewater treatment plant upgrades will continue to be eligible for low-interest loans, but not the new grants.
The budget also calls for increasing funding in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program by $100 million, to a total of $300 million. The program provides voluntary incentives for farmers and ranchers to prevent pollution in priority watersheds.
It would also increase funding for NOAA’s Clean Water Initiative programs from $16.7 million to $22 million. That would increase spending for harmful algal bloom research, monitoring and response, and to support the development and implementation of runoff control programs in coastal areas.