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Law authorizes nearly doubling annual funds for National Estuary Program, which includes Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - People kayak through Clatskanie. The Clatskanie River is a tributary of the Columbia River.Habitat restoration and water quality improvement efforts in the lower Columbia River could get a boost under recently passed federal legislation.

H.R. 4044 nearly doubles funding for the National Estuary Program, which provides grants to estuary programs throughout the country.

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership focuses on 146 miles of the Columbia River, running from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean. Columbia County accounts for more than a third of the Oregon side of the stretch.

Funding from the National Estuary Program, which in recent years has accounted for roughly $600,000 of the Estuary Partnership's annual budget, allows the nonprofit to leverage other grant funds. The Estuary Partnership's annual budget is usually around $6 million, but the organization is currently in the middle of its largest project ever, which is temporarily more than doubling the budget, according to executive director Elaine Placido.

In Columbia County, the Estuary Partnership and Columbia Soil and Water Conservation District recently completed data collection for a three-year water quality monitoring program in four local watersheds. More information will be available once that data is processed.

In 2019, the Estuary Partnership began a restoration project on roughly two acres along Fox Creek in Rainier.

"We have been working with students from Hudson Park, Otto Petersen and McBride, and they've planted 3,600 trees so far," Placido said.

The organization is hoping to expand that project with the city's assistance, Placido added.

"The way that a lot of our projects happen is through partnership and conversation," Placido said. At Fox Creek, the Estuary Partnership worked with Friends of Fox Creek, Rainier city government and the school district. "We've enjoyed a nice partnership with those groups," Placido said.

HR 4044 increases annual funding for the National Estuary Program from $26.5 million to $50 million. The legislation was signed into law in January, but it only authorizes an upper limit for funding.

"We haven't seen the president's budget yet, and we'll need to get through the entire budget and appropriations process, but we are hopeful," Placido said.

Funds from the National Estuary Program come through the Environmental Protection Agency, which requires that grant recipients match the funds $1 to $1 with other sources, meaning no more than 50% of funds could come through the EPA.

The Estuary Partnership has typically had closer to 10% of funds come through the EPA, with other funding coming from Oregon, Washington, cities and counties in both states, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and other groups.

"Estuaries are often overlooked and undervalued, but they are a key tool in our work to solve the climate crisis," U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici stated in a press release. "As co-chair of the Congressional Estuary Caucus, I was pleased to help lead the effort to support and safeguard our National Estuary Programs with the Protect and Restore America's Estuaries Act, and I am committed to securing additional resources to protect our precious coastal ecosystems. I applaud the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership for leading outstanding resiliency efforts in the Pacific Northwest to restore and protect habitat, improve water quality, restore flood plains, and address marine debris."

The Estuary Partnership was one of the first recipients of the funding from the Columbia River Basin Restoration Act, which was signed into law in 2016. Just over $2 million in grant funds were awarded in September 2020, with the Estuary Partnership receiving roughly $68,000 to install equipment to reduce zinc and copper discharges in industrial areas in St. Helens, Rainier, and Longview, Washington.

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