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Water: Estuaries and Coastal Watersheds

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Q:  What is the National Estuary Program (NEP)?

    A:  The NEP was established under the 1987 Clean Water Act (CWA) Amendments as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the estuary, including restoration and maintenance of water quality, a balanced indigenous population of shellfish, fish, and wildlife, and recreational activities in the estuary, and assure that the designated uses of the estuary are protected". The NEP is comprised of a network of 28 voluntary place-based organizations across the nation that model ecosystem based management. Each NEP has a Management Conference made up of diverse local stakeholders that develop a long-term Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that identifies water quality and living resource challenges and priorities in their estuarine and coastal watersheds. The Management Conference partners with local, state, other Federal officials and representatives from the non-profit and private sector to collaboratively implement CCMP priorities.
  2. Q:   How does an estuary receive the designation of an "estuary of national significance" and when was the last cycle of designations?

    A:  An "estuary of national significance" is an estuary whose estuarine waters, natural ecosystems, and economic activities were deemed by Congress to be critical to the environmental health and economic well-being of the nation.  Some estuaries were designated "estuaries of national significance" in CWA Section 320 language.  Other estuaries are selected for inclusion in the NEP through a nomination process, with nominations submitted to EPA during designated nomination periods by the Governor of a state where the estuary is located.  The last estuary designation was made in 1995 when EPA's Congressional appropriation provided funding for support.
  3. Q:   Does EPA provide the same amount of funding to each NEP?

    A:   The annual appropriation provided for the NEPs is evenly divided across the 28 NEPs.
  4. Q:   How much funding has EPA provided to the NEPs over the past ten years?

    A:   EPA has provided approximately $156 million to the NEPs since 2001.
  5. Q:    Do NEPs have clear, measurable environmental goals?

    A: Each NEP has annual and long-term goals for addressing major environmental issues faced by their estuarine and coastal watersheds.  In addition, EPA has an annual and a five-year target for acres of habitat protected and restored by the NEPs and their partners.
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  7. Q:    Does EPA track how the NEPs use annually-appropriated funds and their accomplishments? What are the environmental benefits that have resulted from EPA's investment in the NEPs?

    A:  EPA closely monitors development and implementation of NEP annual work plans. EPA also conducts a rigorous progress evaluation of each NEP's CCMP implementation on a periodic basis (every 5 years).

      The environmental benefits of EPA's investment include:
    • protection and restoration of over 1 million acres that serve as habitat for native species, including threatened and endangered species;
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    • restoration of good water quality conditions resulting from major reductions in non-point source nutrient loadings to those water bodies;
    • reductions in the amount of contaminated sediments containing bioaccumulative chemicals like dioxin and furans, resulting in reduced fish, shellfish, and human exposure to those contaminants; and
    • creation of living shorelines that filter out pollutants entering coastal waters from upland sources and help mitigate coastal erosion and land loss.
  8. Q:    Do the NEPs receive funding from non-EPA sources to implement their long-term protection and restoration plans? If so, how much do they receive in non-EPA funding?

    A:    The NEPs receive funding from non-EPA sources to help implement NEP CCMPs.  On average the NEPs leverage approximately $15 for every $1 provided by EPA.  Since 2003, the NEPs have leveraged a total of $7.5 billion. The NEPs played a lead role in obtaining about 30 percent of those funds.
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  10. Q:   What environmental benefits have resulted from the leveraged funds?

    A: The environmental benefits of NEP leveraging include:
    • on-the-ground protection and restoration of habitat that sustains birds, fish, shellfish, and other species living in and near NEP estuarine watersheds;
    • development of waste load allocations for toxic substances like PCBs, significantly reducing discharges of those toxins to estuarine waters; and
    • reductions in discharges from wastewater treatment plants of up to 25 percent, or over 50,000 pounds per day, since the early 1990s or by more than 50,000 pounds per day.
  11. Q:   What is the difference between EPA's National Estuaries Program and NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS)?

    A: The NEP was authorized by the Section 320 of the Clean Water Act in 1987 and is a partnership between the EPA and 28 voluntary, place-based programs that model ecosystem based management.  The mission of the NEP is to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the estuary, including restoration and maintenance of water quality, a balanced indigenous population of shellfish, fish, and wildlife, and recreational activities in the estuary, and assure that the designated uses of the estuary are protected". The 28 NEPs implement long-term CCMPs that identify water quality and living resource challenges and priorities as defined by local, city, state, federal, private, and non-profit sector stakeholders in estuaries of national significance. The NEP are located in a variety of institutional settings, including state and local agencies, universities, and as individual nonprofits. EPA oversees and manages the national program, providing annual funding, national guidance, and technical assistance to the NEPs.

      The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) was authorized by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 and is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal states. The mission of the NERRS is to practice and promote coastal and estuarine stewardship through innovative research on and education about the reserves, or protected estuarine lands.  Each NERRS is locally managed by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.

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