By Nancy Stoner
Last year not only marked the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, but also the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the National Estuary Program, an EPA place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance. Although there have been challenges along the way, we have made significant progress in making our waters fishable and swimmable. The collaborative, partnership-driven—and non-regulatory—efforts at the 28 National Estuary Program sites across the country have had a special role in implementing the Clean Water Act.
For decades, even before the enactment of the Clean Water Act, Americans have made great strides in protecting the environment and clean water because of governments, groups and individuals working together. The National Estuary Programs have been incredible models of this approach as they have established trust at the local level by promoting a close working relationship among a wide range of partners, and the programs are often recognized as an unbiased broker to achieve commonsense conservation goals.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of this remarkable work in person through my time here at EPA through a number of visits to National Estuary Program sites, and got a firsthand look at all the great things that are happening at the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary in Florida last December.
I accompanied state and local officials on a boat tour around the harbor’s Matlacha and Pine Islands, just a few miles west of Fort Myers. Charlotte Harbor is a popular destination for bird and wildlife watching, and now I understand why—we saw bald eagles, osprey, manatees, egrets, herons and several species of pelicans. I was equally impressed with the wide variety of programs our partners have underway, which include efforts to preserve and protect mangroves, aquatic preserves, sea grasses and wetlands.
Most of these programs are on track to achieve their goals, all while population and development in the watershed are on the rise, a sign that the protecting the environment and growing the economy can compliment one another. Some challenges still remain in the Charlotte Harbor area— like stormwater discharges, nutrient pollution and pathogens affecting water quality—but the strength of the partnerships I witnessed last month made me confident that these issues can be addressed collaboratively and with sustainable outcomes.
About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.