Congress moves to invest in national estuaries

Program restored to recover and grow resilient coastal economies
February 6, 2021

Congress has reaffirmed its support and strong commitment to the National Estuary Program, a time-tested, non-regulatory program that enables communities to restore and protect the bays and estuaries they call home.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, which support waterways counted among 28 estuaries of national significance, will benefit directly from the Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act recently approved by Congress.

The act was signed into law Jan. 13 after receiving strong bipartisan support. The act reaffirms support for the work of the National Estuary Program and nearly doubles the annual authorized funding limit to $50 million. Under the new law, each NEP entity could receive as much as $1 million annually. It was strongly supported by Sen. Tom Carper, Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.

“National Estuary Programs are critical to making coastal communities more resilient, particularly in the face of climate change and sea-level rise. In the First State, the Center for the Inland Bays and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary are leaders in fortifying our communities while restoring habitat and conserving ecosystems,” said Carper, soon-to-be chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Our nation’s estuaries are also economic drivers, and Delaware’s vibrant estuaries are no exception. Protecting them is a win-win, and our National Estuary Programs are wonderful partners in these efforts.”

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary work with communities at the local level in the Inland Bays and Delaware River Watershed to protect coastal resources essential for tourism, commerce, storm protection, clean water and marine-based food industries such as fisheries and aquaculture. Increasing threats from pollution, harmful algal blooms, climate change and risks to biodiversity threaten the vitality of estuaries across the country, including the Delaware Estuary and Delaware’s three Inland Bays: the Assawoman, Indian River and Rehoboth bays.

“These actions demonstrate a clear recognition by Congress of the economic and environmental value of our nation’s estuaries and coasts,” said Lexie Bell, chair of the Association of National Estuary Programs, a national nonprofit established in 1995 to bring NEPs together for collaboration and shared learning.

Along with Carper, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana were instrumental in securing passage of the bill. All three are longtime champions of estuaries and coastal protection.

“In addition to funding research, the National Estuary Program ensures that the management plans governing nationally significant estuaries consider the effects of increasing and recurring extreme weather events, and develop and implement appropriate adaptation strategies,” said Chris Bason, Delaware Center for the Inland Bays executive director.

“We are greatly appreciative of the strong support from our senators and representatives for the important work being done in our estuaries through our program and in collaboration with so many partners across sectors,” said Kathy Klein, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary executive director.

Last year, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays successfully worked to restore 863 linear feet of shoreline and preserve 690 acres of open space with partners from Sussex County government, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Town of Dewey Beach, the Delaware Botanic Gardens and more. The center also launched new programs including a diamondback terrapin survey and a baygrass monitoring project, expanded water monitoring efforts, and held more than two dozen virtual outreach and education programs.

For more information about the center’s work, go to

In 2020, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary recycled more than 17,000 pounds of oyster shell for use in restoration projects, held more than 60 virtual programs during the Delaware River Festival, installed 12 new groundwater monitoring wells, and studied over 22,000 stems of cordgrass to track saltwater intrusion impacts. In three years, it reinforced 1,300 feet of living shoreline in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey with recycled oyster shells. To learn more about the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s work, go to


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