September 24, 2007

Whitehouse, Reed Win Support for Estuary Habitat Restoration

Congress Passes Legislation to Help Protect Rhode Island's Waterways

Washington, D.C. – Congress today passed legislation championed by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to support the restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems in Rhode Island and across the country, the senators announced.

The Estuary Restoration Act (ERA) passed as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a bipartisan bill that authorizes nearly $21 billion for essential flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects.

A member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Whitehouse worked with Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to ensure that the estuaries measure would be included in WRDA. Once the Senate passed the original legislation, Reed and Whitehouse also wrote to Boxer in early July to stress that the House-Senate conference committee’s report on the final bill should preserve the estuary restoration program.

“We have seen what unchecked development combined with more severe storms can do to vital coastal regions,” said Whitehouse. “Restoring estuarine and coastal ecosystems is one important way we can preserve our environment and our communities. I’m proud that Congress has made this critical investment, and pleased to have worked with my senior senator, Jack Reed, to accomplish this.”

“I am pleased that Congress has taken this important step to help restore the Ocean State’s waterways. Narragansett Bay is one of the many estuaries that play a crucial role in protecting our environment and bolstering the economy. It is imperative that we conserve our coastal habitats and natural treasures for future generations of Rhode Islanders, and we’re fortunate to have Senator Whitehouse as a voice on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee,” said Reed.

Estuaries like Narragansett Bay are essential to the health of coastal environments and economies, serving as natural barriers and helping insulate fragile ecosystems and coasts from flood waters. The serious threats of climate change and potential sea level rise underscore the importance of restoring estuarine habitats, which can make coastlines more resilient to storm surges. Estuary restoration benefits local economies, supporting recreational activities and preserving unique coastal cultures. At least 75 percent of commercially and recreationally valuable fish species spend part of their lives in estuaries and coastal wetlands.

The ERA authorizes $2.5 million annually in dedicated funding for restoration projects whose federal funding share is less than $1 million. Four agencies, led by the Army Corps of Engineers, constitute the federal Estuary Restoration Interagency Council: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Resources Conservation Service. Past projects undertaken by the Interagency Council include restoration of salt marshes, mudflats, wetlands, and other important coastal ecologies.

“Once again, the hard work and persistence of Senators Reed and Whitehouse will help make a difference in the health and future of Narragansett Bay and its watershed,” said Save The Bay Executive Director Curt Spalding.

“Reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act preserves vital funding for estuary restoration. That means money for projects that can have both immediate and long-range impacts when it comes to protecting and fortifying our rivers, streams and wetlands. The people who do this work, as well as the people who benefit from it are grateful for the senators’ leadership.”


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