National environmental Problems

ranch road erosion morroBecause we love and depend on coastal water resources, over half the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of a coast, including the shores of estuaries. And more and more people are moving to these areas. Due to the rapid population growth in coastal areas, and climate change, estuaries face a host of common challenges.

In general, these problems cause declines in water quality, living resources and overall estuarine ecosystem health. They also have significant economic and socio-economic impacts. For example, habitat and water quality degradation, along with the introduction of aquatic nuisance species, stresses native fish species populations, which can in turn adversely affect commercial seafood production.

The 28 National Estuary Programs (NEP) share information about their successful approaches to environmental challenges with each other and other coastal watershed managers. That exchange is critical to the effective restoration and protection of estuarine health across all the NEPs.

Provided below are descriptions of the common environmental challenges NEPs face and selected NEP approaches and success stories.

Aquatic nuisance species

As the ease of transporting organisms around the globe has increased, so have the rates of intentional and accidental introduction of aquatic nuisance species (ANS). These ANS introductions often have unexpected ecosystem, economic and social impacts.

For example, ANS harm native fish and wildlife in many ways. They can take over native species' habitats, out-compete and prey upon those species and disturb entire food webs. As well, a few ways in which they affect human activities include:

  • Disrupting agriculture, shipping, water delivery, recreational and commercial fishing
  • Undermining levees, docks and environmental restoration activities
  • Impeding navigation and enjoyment of local and regional waterways

NEP Approach/Success Stories

In this section:

San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP)

people shoreThe San Francisco Bay is one of the most "invaded" estuaries in the world. The San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP) works to minimize the impacts of ANS by supporting efforts in the areas of planning, mitigation, prevention and detection.

For example, SFEP helped develop the California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan, which provides a framework for responding to aquatic invasive species and protecting native plants and animals in California. The Partnership worked with the State Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Game and other state and federal agencies involved with invasive species to complete the plan, which California's Governor signed in 2008.

The SFEP also supports the 100th Meridian Initiative, a collaboration among government, private industry and public stakeholders to prevent the westward spread of zebra mussels. The collaboration provides education and outreach on preventative measures, such as voluntary boat checks. The partnership includes the six states that straddle the 100th Meridian (100º longitude), the Canadian province of Manitoba and most of the western states.

Additionally, SFEP completed the Aquatic Invasive Species Early Detection Program, which assists watershed volunteer groups in identifying new invasions of aquatic species.

The SFEP also supported efforts to control the spread of the Chinese mitten crab. Although introduced elsewhere in the United States, Chinese mitten crabs became an established U.S. population after being introduced into San Francisco Bay. Once established, the crabs excavate and burrow into river banks, eroding those banks and damaging levees. The crab's sharp claws also cut through commercial fishing nets and reduce or damage catch.

sarasota mapFurther, while not found in the California crabs to date, mitten crabs can host lung fluke, a parasite that causes tuberculosis-like symptoms in humans. At some California Aqueduct and State Water Project fish salvage facilities, mitten crabs clogged screens, holding tanks and transport trucks used to salvage fish from the pumping stations. To mitigate the crabs' impact, the state built "Crabzilla, ” an 18-foot high traveling fish screen.

In 1998, the state transported approximately one million mitten crabs trapped by the screen to another facility that ground them up for fertilizer. By 2005, the mitten crab population in the San Francisco Bay watershed had declined considerably.

For more information, see: California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan Exit.

Peconic Estuary Program (PEP)

The Peconic Estuary Program (located in New York) facilitates a monitoring and removal program to control the invasive aquatic plant Ludwigia peploides from the Peconic River system. First detected in the system in 2007, Ludwigia is a threat to the river because it:

  • acts as unsuitable fish habitat;
  • out-competes and blocks sunlight to native plants; and
  • impedes recreational uses of the river.

Soon after the Ludwigia discovery, numerous stakeholders united to eradicate the plant from the Peconic River. From 2008-2012, 13 volunteer “Ludwigia Eradication” events were held, where 438 volunteers spent 2, 360 hours hand pulling 130 cubic yards of the plant. To ensure this invasive plant does not re-establish in the river, the community holds annual monitoring and periodic maintenance pulls.

Puget Sound Partnership

To help prevent the introduction of new invasive species in the Puget Sound region, EPA invested $250, 000 for implementation of key recommendations in the Invasive Species Council’s “Invaders at the Gate” Strategic Plan. As an example, one project assessed the 15 highest priority invasive species in the Puget Sound basin to determine their extent and distribution, as well as to identify current management practices and any management gaps.

Climate change

Estuaries face unique impacts from climate change. As sea-levels rise, increased erosion and inundation threaten many coastal wetlands and estuarine habitats. As temperatures rise due to climate change, so do stresses to habitats and fish and wildlife populations. Climate change will lead to more severe storms, which means increased polluted runoff. This runoff can further degrade water quality in estuarine waters.

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP)

The EPA Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) program helps coastal managers:

  • assess climate change vulnerabilities;
  • develop and implement adaptation strategies;
  • engage stakeholders; and
  • share lessons learned.

With EPA CRE support, CHNEP and partner Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council developed a comprehensive report evaluating climate change vulnerabilities in southwest Florida. The team used the latest scientific information in developing the report.

In addition, the partnership developed key tools that local governments can utilize. These resources include:

  • model language for local government climate change adaptation plans;
  • a list of climate change environmental indicators; and
  • a climate change conceptual ecological model.

The partnership also teamed with the city of Punta Gorda (in Lee County, Florida) to develop a climate change adaptation plan that reflects citizen input and community priorities. In its role, CHNEP held public workshops and facilitated the planning process, which included analyzing the city's climate change vulnerabilities, and developing mitigation strategies and adaptation techniques, as well as an implementation framework for the identified actions.

people water shoreline shell cluster Image of the 2000+ acre Long Creek Watershed, with the Maine Mall and associated commercial development to the lower right.

Effects of environmental Problems

Biggest environmental Problems

Three environmental Problems

Common environmental Problems

Local environmental Problems