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article imageEPA budget cuts will cause irreparable harm to U.S. estuaries

By Karen Graham     Mar 27, 2017 in Politics
In a move to find enough funding for his defense budget and the building of his Great Wall, President Trump has slashed funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent. This egregious move could cause irreparable harm to our estuaries.
On March 4, Digital Journal reported on the proposed cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget draft obtained by The Associated Press. The budget plan proposes cuts to programs aimed at slowing climate change and improving water safety and air quality, as well as cutting funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) by 70 percent.
The cuts to the GLRI is huge because the cuts will be impacting millions of people who live in the vicinity of the Great lakes on both sides of the border between the U.S. and Canada. The funding cuts will severely hurt initiatives in place to protect clean drinking water, prevent and control invasive species, control agricultural runoff and a number of other programs.
President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump
However, there will also be cuts to a number of other programs that may seem closer to home for some people, depending on where they may live. We are going to look closer at two initiatives whose budgets are on the Trump administration's chopping block - The Chesapeake Bay and the San Francisco Bay.
Funding for the Chesapeake Bay will be eliminated
On Monday, Digital Journal did a story about the pollution crisis in the second largest estuary in the United States, Puget Sound. The Chesapeake Bay is the nation's largest estuary, with its northern portion in Maryland and the southern part in Virginia. Fed by more than 150 rivers and streams, the bay is 200 miles (320 km) long from its northern headwaters in the Susquehanna River to its outlet in the Atlantic Ocean and 30 miles at its widest point near Potomac, Maryland.
Algae and debris on the surface of the Susquehanna River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
Algae and debris on the surface of the Susquehanna River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
The bay is huge, with a total shoreline of about 11,684 miles (18,804 km), circumnavigating a surface area of 4,479 square miles. The Chesapeake Bay plays a very important role in the ecology and economy of the two states as well as many other states. The bay also forms a link with the intercoastal waterway, with a dredged shipping channel that allows for large vessels entering or leaving the Port of Baltimore, and further north through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia on the Delaware River.
However, the Chesapeake Bay is best known for its seafood industries, particularly blue crabs, clams, and oysters. In the middle of the 20th century, by some estimates, the bay supported over 9,000 watermen. The bay is also famous for its rockfish, a regional name for the striped bass. But over the last 30 or 40 years, things began to change as industrial and agricultural pollution started having an impact on the bay's ecology.
U.S. Navy joins in project to re-populate oyster reefs along Felgateís Creek. The project is part o...
U.S. Navy joins in project to re-populate oyster reefs along Felgateís Creek. The project is part of an ongoing effort by the Department of the Navy Chesapeake Bay Program to help renew man-made and natural oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
U.S. Navy photo by Mark Piggott
In 1970, the Chesapeake Bay was given the dubious distinction of being the first body of water on the planet to have the first identified marine dead zones, Today, those dead zones are responsible for the deaths of 75,000 tons of bottom-dwelling clams and worms each year, weakening the base of the estuary's food chain and robbing the blue crab in particular of a primary food source.
Besides the hypoxic dead zones, the bay has also been plagued with algae blooms for years, caused by agricultural runoffs of fertilizers and pesticides. But perhaps the biggest threat to residents living in cities and communities along the shores of the bay is rising ocean water levels. Flooding is having a severe impact on many local communities, as well as cities like Norfolk and Newport News. Damages from the recurrent floods are costing millions of dollars every year.
Tidal wetlands of Chesapeake Bay  Maryland  USA.
Tidal wetlands of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA.
Jennifer Schmidt
The Chesapeake Bay's restoration efforts received $73 million in 2016 from the federal government. It's not much, especially with all the work that is being done by individuals, groups, and organizations. But that money did fund important projects, like monitoring dead zones, temperature, salinity and water levels throughout the year.
The San Francisco Bay and its wetlands is doomed
Going across the country to California, we have the San Francisco Bay, a shallow estuary surrounded by a contiguous region known as the San Francisco Bay Area, or as we native Californians call it, "the Bay area." About 40 percent of California's waters drain into the bay from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, and from the Sierra Nevada mountains, all of the flow winding down through numerous streams and tributaries.
San Francisco  Oakland  and the Bay Bridge  2014
San Francisco, Oakland, and the Bay Bridge, 2014
Doc Searles
The San Francisco Bay is enormous, covering about 400 to 1,600 square miles, depending on if you add all the various bays to the total. Otherwise, just the main part, San Francisco Bay, is 3 to 12 miles (5–19 km) wide east-to-west and somewhere between 48 miles (77 km) and 60 miles (97 sq km) north-to-south. It is the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas.
The bay itself used to be much bigger than it is now. At one time, the bay was navigable as far south as San Jose, but with the advent of hydraulic mining, sediment was released into the bay in those areas that had little or no current, adding to the wetlands and marshes. But later, as the population began to grow, people thought nothing of filling in those wetlands and marshes, so important to the ecological health of the bay, in favor of creating more land for buildings.
By the end of the 20th century, more than a third of the bay had been filled in and built on. What's interesting is the contrast between the Chesapeake and San Francisco Bays in the early history of the growth of the United States. Where the Chesapeake Bay provided for a seafood industry well up and into today, the San Francisco Bay supported heavy industry and shipping. But despite their differences, the two bays still serve the same roles in the ecology of their respective regions.
Section of San Francisco Bay where microcystin toxins were found.
Section of San Francisco Bay where microcystin toxins were found.
UC Santa Cruz
Today, the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta remain perhaps California's most important ecological habitats. The bay serves as a nursery for Dungeness crab, California halibut, and Pacific salmon fisheries who rely on this for their livelihoods. The bay's few remaining salt marshes are all that the state has left, anywhere. The marshes serve as habitats for endangered species and provide key ecosystem services such as filtering pollutants and sediments from the rivers.
The $4.8 million for the EPA’s San Francisco Bay Program helps fund a number of projects, including wetlands and watershed restoration, reducing polluted runoff, and improving shoreline protection in the bay. “We need more money from the federal government, not less,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, restoring and celebrating San Francisco Bay, reports the Mercury News.
The San Francisco Bay's EPA funding is far below the funding that has been given to the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound - $73 million and $28 million respectively. “The bay starts off at a big disadvantage in federal funding even though we have the highest demonstrated need,” Lewis said. But if Trump's budget is approved, all the funding for estuaries in the U.S. will be cut.
View of the salt ponds at the southern tip of the bay from Mission Peak.
View of the salt ponds at the southern tip of the bay from Mission Peak.
Oleg Alexandrov
While it can be said that the EPA has become top-heavy with unnecessary regulations and employees doing redundant tasks at times, a budget cut for the agency is not a bad thing, say many environmental and policy experts like H. Sterling Burnett. Referring to the cuts, he says, “It’s long overdue – maybe if they have significantly reduced budgets, they might focus on their core mission." He is referring to the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, but they are also on the chopping block, so it looks like the EPA won't have much to do.
More about trump budget, Environmental issues, Epa, Chesapeake bay, long island sound
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