The San Francisco Bay Estuary is the jewel of California’s coast. Its waters and wetlands provide economic, recreational, ecological and spiritual benefits for millions of people. But federal protection of the Bay and other estuaries – and the science on which it is based – may soon disappear.
For half a century, Californians have worked hard to protect the Bay estuary from the impacts of polluted runoff, wetland destruction and unsustainable diversion of fresh water. We all recognize that the Bay and the rivers that feed it attract millions of tourists and billions of dollars annually.
The Bay provides habitat for millions of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl on their annual journeys to and from breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. Fresh water that flows from the Bay’s watershed supports wild salmon that become food for orcas off our coast and sustain commercial and recreational fisheries throughout Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Because we understand the Bay’s role in our economy and quality of life, Bay Area residents voted last year to underwrite restoration of many of its critical habitats.
The science, authority and money that federal agencies bring to the protection of our Bay play a critical role in preserving these benefits. Federal agencies that protect our environment have been strong partners in developing the best available science needed to improve its water quality, restore its habitats and species, and educate the public about how to live within this ecosystem. They also fund efforts to protect the Bay’s amazing resources – and matching funds from state government and private sources magnify this investment.
Now the agencies that protect the estuary need our protection. The Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding for the Bay, among other cuts. Similarly drastic funding cuts are planned for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which conducts research into climate change and sea level rise, supports sustainable fisheries and protects marine mammals and endangered migratory fish species, like our cherished Chinook salmon.
These budget cuts are inconsequential to any plan to limit government expenditures – the agencies are already tiny, poorly funded and understaffed, especially when compared to the value of the information they produce and the resources they protect. Gutting agencies like EPA and NOAA will ultimately cost taxpayers far more than what is saved through slashing their budgets, because such actions silence major sources of the research and monitoring that allow us to understand our effect on the planet. This strategy of not knowing is deeply troubling.
Equally troubling, Congress and the new administration are revving up to further eviscerate existing federal protections for the Bay estuary – protections based in large part on the research of government scientists at these agencies.
Fortunately, Californians can take action to protect the Bay. For instance, State Sens. Kevin de León and Henry Stern recently introduced Senate Bill 49, the California Environmental, Public Health and Workers Defense Act of 2017, which would backstop federal safeguards for our environment. Under SB 49, existing federal Clean Water and Endangered Species Act protections for water quality and Bay fisheries would become state rules. Californians concerned about the federal assault on our environment should support SB 49.
Our climate, the air we breathe and some of the water and food Californians consume are protected only when environmental protections apply uniformly, across our country. If the federal government abandons its roles in research, funding and protection we will all be less safe. It’s prudent to support state efforts to create a firewall, but we must also defend federal agencies and laws against environmental cutbacks. Urge your state and federal legislators to fight for our Bay and for the government agencies that safeguard it.
Jon Rosenfield is the lead scientist for The Bay Institute and can be contacted at Rosenfield@Bay.org. Ian Wren is the staff scientist at San Francisco Baykeeper and can be contacted at Ian@Baykeeper.org