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Infrastructure Bill to Boost Chesapeake Bay Funding

The massive infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law Monday will give a big boost in federal funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration at a critical time in the long-running effort.

Congress included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act an additional $238 million over the next five years for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the federal-state collaboration that guides the restoration effort. That represents a more than 50% increase in the $87.5 million currently budgeted for the Bay Program.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure also contains multiple other provisions that will bring billions of dollars to the Bay watershed for improving water and air quality, fish passage, coastal resilience, transit upgrades and climate-friendly renewable energy.

For instance, the bill provides $11.7 billion nationwide for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doles out in low interest loans to help upgrade sewage treatment facilities and control polluted stormwater runoff. Under the existing funding formula, the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia stand to get more than 20% of that additional money, or $2.5 billion in all.

Kristin Reilly, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, called the increased federal funding in the bill a “game-changer,” coming as it does with just a little more than four years to go before the 2025 deadline agreed to by Bay watershed states to have all pollution reduction practices in place needed to restore the Chesapeake’s water quality.

“While we have seen significant improvements in water quality,” Reilly said, “the work is by no means finished.”

Indeed, an internal review earlier this year warned that several key commitments made in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement were unlikely to be met by 2025, including taking steps needed to meet nutrient and sediment pollution reduction targets.

It’s not clear how the additional Bay Program money will get spent. Congress gave no instructions or recommendations. But Reilly said that the new funding should go toward “on-the-ground restoration projects” in places where they will do the most to reduce pollution. Examples include planting riparian buffers on farmland and trees in urban areas, she said. But funding also needs to go toward environmental justice communities, she added, where people are disproportionally impacted by pollution.

“The more projects we are able to get in the ground,” Reilly concluded, “the more likely we are to meet the looming 2025 goals.”


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