Budget Cuts Will Devastate US Estuaries, Experts Warn

Tahlequeah, a Southern Resident killer whale otherwise known as J-35, gave birth in July 2018 to a female calf that died 30 minutes later. For 17 days, she refused to let her dead baby drop to the sea floor, dragging it by a fin or pushing the corpse with her forehead. (Center for Whale Research, NMFS Permit #21238)

WASHINGTON (CN) — When an endangered orca named Tahlequeah lost her calf last summer, the entire pod swam 1,000 miles with the grieving mother as she carried the young whale’s body for 17 days through the Salish Sea.

Laura Blackmore, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, told House lawmakers Tuesday that Tahlequah’s story is one of many that speaks to the death knell that has been sounding for the Seattle-area deep fjord estuary.

“A dying Puget Sound is a national disgrace,” said Blackmore.

Laura Blackmore, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, testified Tuesday before a House subcommittee.

The House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment invited experts like Blackmore to testify this morning against the Trump administration’s proposed 31% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency budget — a move that would cut nearly $650 million in funding for environmental and restorative efforts.

One such effort is the National Estuary Program, which is composed of 28 regional organizations that monitor and protect local environments through the help of state, local and federal organizing and funding. The program would no longer receive any federal funding if the cuts go through.

In other testimony, Chesapeake Bay Foundation president William Baker described how federal investment in pollution-reduction measures, otherwise known as green infrastructure, has further encouraged states to take action.

While Maryland can’t tell Pennsylvania to invest environmentally for the health of the Chesapeake Bay — specifically in its Conowingo Dam — the federal government could.

“The federal government is the one jurisdiction which can do what scientists say must be done: treat the bay and all of its rivers as a single, ecological system,” Baker said.

With 64,000 square miles of total watershed, the Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary.

Speaking to the importance of green infrastructure, Baker noted that it is “putting back what we have taken away over centuries.”

A House subcommittee heard testimony Tuesday form Tom Ford, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program and the Bay Foundation.

The subcommittee also heard Tuesday from Tom Ford, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program and the Bay Foundation, one of 28 recipients that divvy up the $26.5 million in National Estuary Program funding.

“Collectively, and on average over the last 14 years, the program has tallied up leveraged resources of $19 for every $1 invested by Congress,” Ford testified. “The Santa Monica Bay NEP that I direct leveraged $29 for every $1 over the past 5 years.”

House lawmakers introduced a bill this year called PUGET SOS, an acronym for Promoting United Government Efforts to Save Our Sound, that could authorize $50 million in funding for the watershed’s recovery – a jump from the $28 million the organization already receives through the National Estuary Program.

“It also would align federal agency brainpower and resources,” Blackmore said. “These are tremendous assets.”

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