The Bay region lost a bid for a major federal initiative to conserve Chesapeake landscapes, but several agencies would see increased funding under President Obama's proposed 2014 budget.
Exactly how much of those increases will become reality is unclear, though, as the actual job of appropriating funds rests in the hands of Congress.
Nonetheless, many — though not all — Bay-related programs have generally fared well since Obama issued an executive order calling the Chesapeake a "national treasure" in May 2009 and called for accelerated federal actions to restore it and its watershed.
One disappointment was that the Chesapeake Great Rivers Landscape Collaborative was not one of the four regional programs selected in the budget to receive potentially tens of millions of dollars from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to help conserve large-scale landscapes.
The Bay initiative, proposed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management would have targeted land protection efforts on the tidal portions of several Bay tributaries.
"President Obama declared the Chesapeake a National Treasure, and we feel strongly that the Bay landscape should be a high priority for the Department of the Interior's Land and Water Conservation Fund," said Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, which had sought to rally support for the initiative. "We remain hopeful that our members of Congress can help get the Chesapeake on the list."
In a bit of a surprise, the budget includes $50 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, which was originally set to expire
in 2012, but was funded through this year.
The president's budget calls for continuing the program that helps farmers implement conservation programs aimed at improving water quality in the Bay watershed.
Despite overall cuts for the EPA, the budget calls for funding the agency's Chesapeake Bay Program Office at $73.37 million, an increase of about $13 million over this year. The money helps fund core Bay-related modeling and monitoring programs, as well as grants programs that support state, local and nonprofit cleanup, restoration and education efforts.
But the budget would cut nationwide funding for the EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund from about $1.5 billion to $1.1 billion. The fund provides low-interest loans for wastewater and other water infrastructure improvements.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office would get $4.26 million, less than the $4.3 million it got this year. Funding for the NOAA office, which works to assess and restore Bay habitats, improve fisheries science, promote environmental literacy, and operate the Bay's interpretive buoy system, has dropped sharply in recent years. As recently as 2011, it received about $7.3 million.
The budget also includes about $500,000 to support fisheries research in the Bay. But it would eliminate funding for NOAA's Bay Watershed Education and Training program, which promotes environmental education and teacher training and received about $2.5 million this year.
The budget didn't explicitly set aside NOAA funding for oyster restoration, but it is expected to provide about $1 million, drawing mostly from agency-wide restoration programs. That's similar to funding levels for this year, but down considerably from the $6 million provided just a few year ago.
The budget requests $9.16 million for U.S. Geological Survey Chesapeake Bay studies; about $1.8 million more than what was appropriated this year. It would support USGS work to restore brook trout and their habitats, research the effects of contaminants on fish, assess the impact of land use and climate change on habitats; and monitor and research water quality trends in the Bay watershed.
The budget would also fund the National Park Service's Gateways and Water Trails Network at about $2 million, and its Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail at $369,000 and the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail at $151,000. And, it provide $492,000 for its Chesapeake Bay Office, which helps coordinate the Service's Bay-related activities. Those are similar to recent funding levels for the agency.