U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan praised legislation to extend the National Estuary Program past next year. Failure to do so would threaten ecological treasures like Sarasota Bay, he said.
“Sarasota Bay plays a key role in the Suncoast’s thriving economy and serves as a habitat for countless plants and wildlife,” Buchanan said. “I will continue to fight for our estuary so residents and visitors can enjoy the bay for decades to come.”
The Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act (HR 4044), which Buchanan co-sponsored, passed in the House Wednesday by a vote of 355-62. As written, the bill increases funding from $26.5 million annually to $50 million and keeps the program alive through 2026, adding five years of life.
Buchanan was one of 38 Republicans to vote to increase funding and evaluate the effect of climate change on estuaries.
The program aids 28 estuaries of “national significance,” including Sarasota Bay. The Sarasota water body serves as home to more than 1,400 native species of diverse plants and wildlife, including manatees, bald eagles, sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins.
Estuaries, coastal water bodies that connect freshwater rivers and saltwater seas, provide brackish habitats important for nesting, food and breeding for a number of species.
Florida serves as home to four estuaries — Sarasota Bay, Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and Indian River Lagoon.
The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program has focused on improving water quality and habitat restoration. Recent goals for the program have included creating more than 25 acres of wetland.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, filed the companion legislation to the House bill. That legislation (S 3171) was filed in January and is still in the bill summary stage.
President Donald Trump has shown some interest in estuary programs and approved Everglades restoration efforts including changes in discharge scheduled in Lake Okeechobee that will reduce impacts on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.