Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. Their unique mix of freshwater and saltwater allows for a diversity of plant, animal and aquatic species, and the associated wetlands and riparian zones provide countless ecosystem benefits and protection from storm surges and weather events. 75% of the United States commercial fish catch and 80–90% of the recreational fish catch comes from estuaries.
To protect these important systems in the face of mounting stresses from development and increased pollution loads, Congress created the National Estuary Program (NEP) in 1987 to protect and restore 28 biologically diverse and productive estuarine systems throughout the United States.
H.R. 4715, the Clean Estuaries Act of 2010, reauthorizes the NEP for an additional seven years, and increases the annual authorized funding level to $50 million. H.R. 4715 requires periodic updates to restoration plans and seeks to improve coordination by requiring federal agencies to participate in the management planning process. Finally, it requires that approved programs must now identify estuary vulnerabilities to climate change impacts, including sea level rise, and prepare adaptation responses, as well as work to educate the public on estuary health issues and develop performance measures and targets.The House passed H.R. 4715.