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Water: Estuaries and Coastal Watersheds

Estuaries and Coastal Watersheds

Coastal Bend Bays - Texas

Photo Credit: Bill & Sharon Draker

Photo Credit: Bill & Sharon Draker

Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary - Louisiana

Photo Credit: Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

Photo Credit: Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

winding river - photo credit Stephan Gersh

Photo Credit: Stephan Gersh

Photo Credit: Stephan Gersh

turtle and alligator on a log - photo credit Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Estuary Program

sea grape flowers on a white sand dune - photo credit Merle Allshouse

Photo Credit: Merle Allshouse

Photo Credit: Merle Allshouse

spoonbills playing in the water - photo credit Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Portland Head Light Lighthouse - photo credit Alan Lishness

Photo Credit: Alan Lishness

Photo Credit: Alan Lishness

Terns flying in front of breaking waves on the beach - photo credit Kevin T. Edwards

Photo Credit: Kevin T. Edwards

Photo Credit: Kevin T. Edwards

Tillamook Estuary - Oregon

Photo Credit: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

Photo Credit: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

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The National Estuary Program (NEP) is a network of voluntary community-based programs that safeguards the health of important coastal ecosystems across the country.

About Estuaries


What Is An Estuary? Now You Know! (Flash) (Download Flash Player) Produced by The Association of National Estuary Programs Exit EPA Disclaimer
Watch this video to learn more about estuaries - where rivers meet the sea.

Estuaries are places where freshwater from a river mixes with saltwater from the sea. Estuaries come in all shapes and sizes. They are often known as bays, sounds, lagoons, harbors, or inlets (note though that not all water bodies by those names are necessarily estuaries; the defining feature of an estuary is the mixing of fresh and salt water, not the name.)

National Estuary Program (NEP) Overview

A study* found the networks in NEP areas span more levels of government, integrate more experts into policy discussions, nurture stronger interpersonal ties between stakeholders, and create greater faith in the procedural fairness of local policy than other comparable estuaries.

*Building Consensual Institutions: Networks and the National Estuary Program, M. Schneider et. al., American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 47. No 1, January 2003

The NEP was established under Section 320 of the 1987 Clean Water Act (CWA) Amendments as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Section 320 of the CWA calls for each NEP to develop and implement a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The CCMP is a long-term plan that contains specific targeted actions designed to address water quality, habitat, and living resources challenges in its estuarine watershed.

Each NEP has a Management Conference (MC) made up of diverse stakeholders including citizens, local, state, and Federal agencies, as well as with non-profit and private sector entities. Using a consensus-building approach and collaborative decision-making process, each MC works closely together to implement the CCMP. The MC ensures that the CCMP is uniquely tailored to the local environmental conditions, is based on local input, and supports local priorities.

Currently there are 28 estuaries located along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico that have been designated as estuaries of national significance. Each NEP focuses it work within a particular place or boundary called a study area which includes the estuary, and surrounding watershed.

National Estuary Program Information

Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans for each NEP

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Each of the 28 National Estuary Programs was charged with developing and implementing a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) which establishes priorities for activities, research, and funding for the estuary. The CCMP serves as a blueprint to guide future decisions and actions and addresses a wide range of environmental protection issues including water quality, habitat, fish and wildlife, pathogens, land use, and introduced species to name a few. The CCMP is based on a scientific characterization of the estuary and is developed and approved by a broad-based coalition of stakeholders.

For more information about CCMPs, contact the NEP directly:


nep_booklet

National Estuary Program Booklet (PDF) (11 pp, 2.8MB, About PDF) | En Español
Cover Photo Credit: Mark Lagrange - The NEP Booklet provides an overview of the program and describes how NEPs are effective, efficient, collaborative, and adaptive community-based programs.

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Challenges and Approaches

Challenges facing our Estuaries and NEP Approaches for Restoration

Tackling common Environmental Problems

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

San Francisco Estuary Partnership

Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Estuaries face a host of common challenges. Because we love and depend on the water, more than half of the people in the United States live within 100 miles of the coast, including on the shores of estuaries. And more and more people are moving to these areas. Coastal communities are growing three times faster than counties elsewhere in the country.

Conditions

NEPs are required to monitor the effectiveness of their management activities to address estuary-specific priority problems. In addition, the Clean Water Act requires EPA to report periodically on the condition of the nation's estuarine waters. To meet those mandates, EPA and each NEP monitor conditions in estuarine/coastal waters.

As stated in the 2007 National Estuary Program Coastal Condition Report, the NEP estuaries are rated "fair" and scored equal to or higher than all other US estuaries combined despite increasing population pressures in the 28 estuarine watersheds. This rating is based on four key indicators of ecological health: water quality, sediment quality, benthic community condition, and fish tissue contaminants.

Individual NEPs have also worked with their many partners to collect, compile and analyze monitoring data producing "State of the Bay" reports about their estuaries every 3-5 years. Since these data are collected over a longer time period and from more sampling sites than are depicted in the NEP CCR, they provide a more comprehensive picture of NEP estuarine conditions than does the NEP CCR.

National Estuary Program Coastal Condition Report

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

The report is based on available monitoring data for the period 1997-2003 collected by Federal agencies, State, Regional and local organizations. For each of these four key indicators, a score of good, fair, or poor was assigned to each NEP. These ratings were then averaged to create overall regional and national scores, illustrated in the adjacent map, using "traffic light" color scoring.

The ratings developed in the report are based solely on the National Coastal Condition Assessment data. The individual NEPs collect other monitoring data over a longer time period and at more sampling stations that further enhance the picture of conditions in their estuaries.

Factsheet: National Estuary Program Coastal Condition Report - NEP CCR | PDF Version (2 pp, 434K)

Read the Summary of the Findings from the Executive Summary

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (by larger sections of the report)

NEP State of the Bay Reports

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Environmental Indicators

Indicator Development Manual PDF

To gauge an estuary's health, each NEP develops environmental indicators—"specific, measurable markers that help assess the condition of the environment and how it changes over time" (see Indicator Development for Estuaries, EPA 842-B-08-004 September 2008). For each environmental indicator, a quantitative or qualitative measure is developed based on the goals and objectives of a CCMP, which in turn reflect the priorities of local stakeholders. These indicators can include water and sediment quality, land use, living resources, and habitat among many others.


Volunteer Monitoring

Volunteer Monitoring Manual PDF

Citizen volunteers play an important role when it comes to monitoring conditions in our estuaries, particularly water quality conditions. See the Volunteer Estuary Monitoring Manual to learn how to establish and maintain a volunteer monitoring program, as well as how to work effectively with volunteers and ensur their safety.


Accomplishments and Environmental Results

Leveraging

View NEP financing strategies and total primary leveraged dollars. Leveraged dollars are defined as the dollar value (cash or in-kind equivalent) of resources dedicated to implementing an NEP CCMP above and beyond the funding provided to the NEP under Section 320, including earmark funding.

View successful financing mechanisms being used by NEPs.

Habitat

Reddish Egret - Photo Credit: Jarrett Woodrow

Learn more about habitat loss and degradation and contributing factors. View national habitat goals and total NEP annual results, see examples of individual NEP habitat plans, and learn about reporting environmental results.

Get information about each local NEP protection and restoration projects and Regional summaries by visiting NEPmap.

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

Lessons from the NEP

EPA's place–based National Estuary Program provides important lessons for other coastal communities working to restore and protect their watersheds. The following lessons learned are drawn from the 28 individual NEPs and documented in the documents shown below.

NEP Lessons Learned

Evaluating NEP Progress

In order to assess NEP progress made toward achieving their long-term goals, EPA conducts a Program Evaluation for each NEP. EPA developed NEP Program Evaluation Guidance that provides EPA and the NEPs with direction on how to assess the effectiveness of NEP actions. The Guidance presented below includes performance measures, describes a process for conducting site visits, and provides a feedback loop which helps ensure that recommendations for improvement are implemented.


NEP Program Evaluation Results

The document below summarizes NEP strengths and challenges and how the NEP helps implement specific Clean Water Act programs.



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