THE BARNEGAT BAY ESTUARY PROGRAM
In March 1995, Governor Christine Todd Whitman submitted an application to the US EPA to have the Barnegat Bay/Little Egg Harbor estuarine system included in the National Estuary Program (NEP) to be recognized as an “estuary of national significance.” The program was established by Congress under the 1987 Clean Water Act to identify, restore, and protect nationally significant estuaries of the United States.
In July 1995, US EPA Administrator Carol Browner officially named the Barnegat Bay/Little Egg Harbor estuarine system a National Estuary Program. The Barnegat Bay Estuary was officially accepted into the program on April 16, 1996 with the signing of a joint USEPA/State Conference Agreement and officially convened the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program Management Conference making Barnegat Bay one of twenty-eight estuary programs nationwide. The Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program (BBNEP) is a partnership of federal, state, local and public interests overseeing the development of a management plan and community efforts to restore and preserve the natural resources throughout Barnegat Bay Watershed (WMA 13). The BBNEP is made up of subcommittees who oversee the various aspects of the management plan: the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Science and Technical Advisory Committee, the Management Committee, and the Policy Committee.
The Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program has been funded by the USEPA since its acceptance into the national program. During the first eight years of the Program, the BBNEP Management Conference was engaged in numerous activities to undertake the development of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) to meet the goals of Section 320 of the CWA. The CCMP was approved on May 15, 2002.
Under the CCMP, the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program was charged with developing a coalition of federal, state and local government, private, and commercial partnerships and public interests for the preservation of the Barnegat Bay and Little Egg Harbor estuaries by:
- identifying problems
- assessing trends
- designing pollution controls
- developing resource management strategies
- recommending corrective actions
- seeking implementation commitments
In the Spring of 2008 the BBNEP completed a Strategic Plan as required by the USEPA. This plan is the result of a 12-month collaborative effort among all major partners of the BBNEP that identifies the key priority issues from the CCMP that will be the focus for the three year time frame from 2008-2011. The three-year plan will focus the efforts of all partners on those priority challenges facing the ecosystem using a manageable time frame within which to achieve incremental improvement. Priority issues include:
- Improving the capacity of the BBNEP office and strengthening its working relationships with partners to address priority issues;
- Improving our recognition and understanding of the bay's condition, and addressing the causes of water quality degradation within the ecosystem, especially eutrophication in the bay and stormwater and nonpoint source pollution in the watershed;
- Addressing water supply and flow issues that affect the bay and watershed;
- Preventing habitat loss, especially of submerged aquatic vegetation, and supporting habitat restoration; and
- Improving understanding of, and addressing, fisheries declines.
The Department remains actively involved in the research and implementation aspects of the BBNEP. Over the past 15 years the Department has funded various research, planning and implementation projects in excess of two million dollars from federal and state funding sources for grant awards to various watershed partners to help implement the action items of the CCMP and the current Strategic Plan. Current projects focus on the issues of stormwater, nonpoint source pollution and eutrophication. These are the highest priority action items of the CCMP and the Strategic Plan and compliment the Department’s efforts to address identified water quality impairments within Watershed Management Area 13.