Appropriations omnibus increases Chesapeake Bay Program funding by $2.5 million

A heron perches on rocks in the James River near Mayo's Island in Richmond. The river is one of many Virginia waterways that impact the Chesapeake Bay. (Sarah Vogelsong/The Virginia Mercury)

The Chesapeake Bay Program is set to get an extra $2.5 million next year, despite a request by President Donald Trump that its current $85 million budget be slashed to $7.3 million. 

The bump in funding comes as the program’s six states — Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Delaware — and Washington, D.C. enter the final stretch of a decade-long push initiated under President Barack Obama’s administration to clean up the nation’s largest estuary. 

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint signed by the six states and the District of Columbia sets a 2025 deadline for each to meet major targets in reducing sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus that flow from agricultural fields, city streets and sewage treatment plants into the bay. Bay Program funds go toward a range of efforts to achieve those goals, including conservation programs administered by Virginia agencies, tree-planting efforts in urban areas and projects to reduce polluted runoff.

The new funding was part of the federal appropriations omnibus bill passed by Congress Sunday night. Trump is expected to sign the legislation. 

Another provision provides $3 million for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network run by the National Park Service that provides financial and technical support for public access throughout the watershed “to help connect people to the natural and cultural heritage of the Chesapeake region.”

“The continued strong bipartisan support for the (Environmental Protection Agency’s) Chesapeake Bay Program is welcome news for Virginia,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner. “Thousands of streams and rivers wend their way across six states before joining the Chesapeake Bay. As the federal leader in Bay restoration, the Chesapeake Bay Program provides key assistance in overseeing the science and encouraging pollution reduction efforts by each of these states to ensure that all do their part.”

Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, in a statement highlighted increases in park visitation within the watershed in 2020. Visitation has boomed nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Shenandoah National Park, as people have looked for outdoor, socially distant sources of recreation.

The rise “means that we must provide more space for outdoor recreation and also for nature,” said Dunn. “Full funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways program enables the National Park Service to support public access and connect people with our region’s greatest asset and a national treasure, the Chesapeake Bay.”