Last week’s proposed federal budget poses serious concerns for America’s waters and the millions of people who depend on them.
Today is World Water Day, an annual event that recognizes clean water as a fundamental human right and encourages all people to advocate to keep it clean and healthy. It is an issue that is close to my heart — I support water restoration for a living and want to live in a world where my two young daughters will always have safe water to drink.
Preserving water is also the very reason why many national parks were first established. The health of our national parks depends on the health of the waters that surround and flow through them. Millions of people depend on these waters for drinking, bathing, cooking and swimming.
Yet just last week, the Trump administration released its proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, which reduces or eliminates federal investments in important water restoration programs. If enacted, the president’s budget would deprive four major watersheds of the vital funding they need to stay clean and safe, among others around the country. Worse, it could reverse years of progress NPCA and others have made restoring these vital park waters.
The consequences would be serious. Already, pollution, overuse and climate change threaten some of our most important and beloved lakes, rivers and streams. More than half of our national parks have waterways that fail to meet Clean Water Act standards, meaning you shouldn’t swim or fish in them, let alone drink from them.
NPCA has been working for years to strengthen federal funding for restoration programs in the Everglades, Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River to conserve and restore these iconic landscapes in and around our national parks.
Here are a few reasons why these programs shouldn’t be on the chopping block.
Why it matters: The Everglades is one of the world’s most diverse and productive wetlands and is a tremendous economic generator for Florida. Everglades and Biscayne National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve attract around 2 million visitors each year, yet they desperately lack clean water. In recent years, much progress has been made toward restoring the Everglades ecosystem, although much more needs to be done. Keeping Everglades restoration on schedule requires significant federal investments.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ South Florida Ecosystem Restoration program is an unprecedented undertaking aimed at protecting and preserving the water resources of central and southern Florida and bringing the Everglades back to life. A set of restoration projects will send more clean water to the national parks in South Florida while reducing the flow of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee that is causing toxic algal outbreaks in Florida’s coastal waterways.
Another important program for the Everglades is the South Florida Geographic Program, which helps ensure clean water flows through Everglades National Park by monitoring and enforcing the pollution limit. The program also provides extensive information about water conditions and changing water quality levels in Everglades National Park and monitors reef and seagrass health at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Proposed cuts: The president’s budget falls far short of the much-needed annual amount of $200 million for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration by proposing only $63.3 million. It also eliminates the $3.2 million South Florida Geographic Program.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
Why it matters: The Great Lakes boast more than 620 miles of shoreline, including beaches, marshes, dunes and wetlands. Within this massive watershed, 13 national parks preserve critical landscapes and wildlife habitat and provide valuable economic benefits to the region. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds a variety of programs to restore habitat for birds and fish, control invasive species, and reduce runoff from cities and farms to improve drinking water quality for more than 30 million people. At Indiana Dunes National Park, NPCA has partnered with groups to replant native vegetation in the Great Marsh; these plants filter pollutants before they reach Lake Michigan, improving the health of the lake and its wildlife. At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, NPCA is working with researchers to understand the cause of thousands of bird deaths due to avian botulism, likely from invasive mussels, so park managers can better predict and reduce toxic outbreaks.
Proposed cuts: The president’s budget slashes funding for the initiative by 90 percent, from $300 million to $30 million.
Chesapeake Bay Program
Why it matters: The Chesapeake Bay watershed includes more than 50 national park sites, from Shenandoah National Park to Colonial National Historical Park. The Chesapeake Bay Program provides funding to a partnership of state and federal stakeholders that oversees a comprehensive pollution reduction plan for restoring clean water in the region’s streams, creeks and rivers. This includes restoring native oysters to the watershed and using agriculture best management practices, which helps improve the water quality in the Chesapeake to ensure that visitors to the parks can enjoy their natural surroundings as well as the parks’ historic and cultural features.
Proposed cuts: The proposed Trump budget cuts funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program by 90 percent, from $73 million to $7.3 million.
Delaware River Basin Restoration Program
Why it matters: More than 400 miles of the Delaware River is classified as a National Wild and Scenic River, and the river is home to one of the country’s most-visited national parks sites – the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which provides drinking water to more than 15 million people, including residents in New York City and Philadelphia. This newly established program funds on-the-ground restoration projects across the Delaware River Basin to conserve fish and wildlife habitat, maintain and improve water quality, and improve recreational opportunities and public access in the watershed.
Proposed cuts: The proposed Trump budget eliminates the $6 million Delaware River Basin Restoration Program completely.
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Thankfully, the president can only suggest budget priorities — it is Congress’ job to actually create and pass the federal budget. The last couple of years, Congress has largely ignored the president’s budgets (which have proposed similar cuts), and members have recognized that these restoration programs and the national parks and communities that depend on them deserve better.
NPCA is committed to working with Congress again this year to ensure that these treasured places are protected and conserved. Clean water offers one of the best returns on investment in the federal budget. It improves our quality of life, increases property values, provides safe drinking water, supports fish and wildlife, drives tourism, and offers beautiful places to swim and boat. And that, ultimately, is priceless.
About the author
Sarah Gaines Barmeyer Senior Managing Director of Conservation Programs
Sarah Barmeyer is senior managing director for NPCA’s Conservation Programs where she coordinates priority initiatives for water restoration, landscape conservation, wildlife, and clean air.