Congress Moves to Invest in the Nation’s Estuaries

Congress reauthorizes the National Estuary Program to recover and grow coastal economies and ensure resilient coastal communities

Sen. Tom Carper at Read Avenue
U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del. and a strong supporter of the Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act, (right) recently visited the Center’s living shoreline project at Read Avenue in Dewey Beach. The project, which also includes unique stormwater elements and an offshore oyster reef, restored marsh habitats and has reduced flooding in the area.

Rehoboth Beach, Del. – Congress has reaffirmed its support and strong commitment to the National Estuary Program, a time-tested, non-regulatory program that enables communities to restore and protect the bays and estuaries they call home. The First State’s Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, two of 28 “estuaries of national significance,” will benefit directly from the Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act recently approved by Congress.

The Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act was signed into law January 13, 2021, after receiving strong bipartisan support. The Act reaffirms support for the work of the National Estuary Program (NEP), and nearly doubles the annual authorized funding limit to $50 million. Under the new law, each NEP could receive as much as $1 million annually. It was strongly supported by Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Representative Lisa Blunt-Rochester.

“National Estuary Programs are critical to making coastal communities more resilient, particularly in the face of climate change and sea-level rise. In the First State, the Center for Inland Bays and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary are leaders in fortifying our communities while restoring habitat and conserving ecosystems,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, soon-to-be chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the Senate. “Our nation’s estuaries are also economic drivers, and Delaware’s vibrant estuaries are no exception. Protecting them is a win-win, and our National Estuary Programs are wonderful partners in these efforts.”

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary work with communities at the local level in the Inland Bays and Delaware River Watershed to protect coastal resources essential for tourism, commerce, storm protection, clean water and marine-based food industries such as fisheries and aquaculture. Increasing threats from pollution, harmful algal blooms, climate change and risks to biodiversity threaten the vitality of estuaries across the country, including the Delaware Estuary and Delaware’s three Inland Bays: the Assawoman, Indian River and Rehoboth Bays.

“These actions demonstrate a clear recognition by Congress of the economic and environmental value of our nation’s estuaries and coasts,” said Lexie Bell, chair of the Association of National Estuary Programs, a national nonprofit established in 1995 to bring NEPs together for collaboration and shared learning.

“Estuaries nurture a vast array of marine life, filter pollutants from rivers before they reach the sea, and are the natural infrastructure that protects human communities from floods and storms,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the original sponsor of the bill introduced in July 2019. “As extreme weather events increasingly threaten these nurseries of the sea, I’m very proud this important legislation was signed into law, so these critical waterways will continue to be protected.”

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Delaware’s Sen. Carper were instrumental in securing passage of the bill, and are long-time champions of estuaries and coastal protection.

“In addition to funding research, the National Estuary Program ensures that the management plans governing nationally significant estuaries consider the effects of increasing and recurring extreme weather events and develop and implement appropriate adaptation strategies,” said Chris Bason, Executive Director of the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.

“We are greatly appreciative of the strong support from our Senators and Representatives for the important work being done in our estuaries through our program and in collaboration with so many partners across sectors,” said Kathy Klein, Executive Director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

Partnership for the Delaware Estuary scientists count and measure oysters near a living shoreline site at Mispillion Harbor in Delaware. From left, Shellfish Specialist Matt Gentry, Wetland Coordinator LeeAnn Haaf and Restoration Program Manager Josh Moody, Ph.D.

Last year, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays successfully worked to restore 863 linear feet of shoreline and preserve 690 acres of open space with partners from Sussex County government, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Town of Dewey Beach, the Delaware Botanic Gardens and more. The Center also launched new programs, including a Diamondback terrapin survey and a baygrass monitoring project, expanded water monitoring efforts and held more than two dozen virtual outreach and education programs. Learn more about the Center’s work at

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary in 2020 recycled more than 17,000 pounds of oyster shell for use in restoration projects, held 60-plus virtual programs during the Delaware River Festival, installed a dozen new groundwater monitoring wells and studied over 22,000 stems of cordgrass to track saltwater intrusion impacts. In three years, it reinforced 1,300 feet of living shoreline in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey with recycled oyster shells. Go to to learn more about the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s work.

ANEP Fact Sheet 2021