The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued guidance July 26 for place-based projects using $132 million in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds being distributed via its National Estuary Program. The NEP, which started in 1987, funds water quality and ecological integrity recovery projects at 28 estuaries along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts, plus Puerto Rico, considered to be of “national significance.” 

In a memo to regional water division directors and NEP directors, EPA Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox wrote that the NEP's infrastructure act funding would be evenly distributed between the 28 programs, with each set to receive about $900,000 annually through 2026.Each program received $700,000 in federal funds for FY 2021.

The EPA guidance does not specify the types of projects the money must fund, but the work should address pollution and water quality, or the effects of recurring extreme weather events, according to Fox’s memo. EPA also expects the local NEPs to ensure the benefits of the projects reach disadvantaged communities. The projects should also prepare local communities for climate change through resilience and hazard mitigation.  

Non-Federal Match Requirements Waived

EPA waived the non-federal match requirements for when the local programs use the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds, though they will need to comply with the Build America, Buy America Act requirements to use domestically manufactured construction materials, the memo notes. 

Local program directors detailed funding plans in a statement, including building defenses in California’s Santa Monica Bay area against sea level rise, protecting underserved communities of color in low-lying areas near Mobile Bay in Alabama and assisting recovery of species that provide food for orcas and people in Washington’s Puget Sound.

In Puerto Rico, San Juan Bay NEP executive director, Brenda Torres, said the funding would likely go toward ongoing efforts to rebuild from hurricanes Maria and Irma.

“Funding that will flow to San Juan Bay from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will empower us to utilize nature-based solutions and green infrastructure to rebuild in a sustainable and resilient way,” Torres said in a statement. 

The funding is part of a broader Biden administration effort to reduce plastic debris in oceans and estuaries. As ENR previously reported, EPA will also award $350 million over five years to improve recycling, including $275 million for related infrastructure. 

“Communities have been waiting for far too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “This funding is an important investment in equity, clean water and resilience for some of our most treasured water resources.”