Persistence Pays Off for New Federal Support of the Bay

Tucked in among the frenzy in Washington at the end of the year was a little-noticed item that will have a profound affect here in the San Francisco Bay. Just before the holidays, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 7776), which is a sprawling piece of legislation required to be passed each year to authorize the Department of Defense and its programs – but this year it included something else. Rep. Jackie Speier was able to add the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act (H.R. 610) as an amendment to the Defense package, meaning that when the President signed the Defense bill, he also formally approved an important new federal program to support a healthy and resilient Bay. 

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Act was introduced by former Rep. Jackie Speier with Save The Bay’s support back in 2010 and we have worked with her office since then to get it passed into law. The bill creates a permanent program office within the Environmental Protection Agency to support projects that will improve water quality, restore habitat, and help the Bay adapt to climate change. After so many years of stalled progress, it is not only an exciting opportunity but a fitting legacy for Rep. Speier and the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and Senators Feinstein and Padilla to see this bill finally become law. 

San Francisco Bay view from Oakland Hills

But creating a program is only part of the puzzle if it doesn’t have sufficient funding to apply to impactful projects. San Francisco Bay has long suffered from underinvestment by the federal government in comparison to other major estuaries. Because of that, Save The Bay and our partners realized that we needed to create new funding locally to make up some of that gap. That’s why we led the campaign in 2016 to pass Measure AA, which voters overwhelmingly approved to support wetland restoration and water quality improvements throughout the Bay. 

That money is already making an impact, but the need for project funding far exceeds what we can achieve with only local tax revenues. We have worked for years with the Bay Area congressional delegation to increase federal funding for the Bay. Luckily, the passage of the SF Bay Restoration Act wasn’t the only good news out of Washington this past month. 

In addition to the creation of an EPA program focused on the SF Bay, we also saw the approval of $54.5 million in new funding directed at improving the health of the Bay. That funding is a significant and will make a huge impact, but it’s only funding for one year. Going forward, Save The Bay will continue to advocate to maintain and further increase that level of federal investment. Taken together, the new EPA program office and this large increase in federal funding will allow EPA to work alongside Measure AA to accelerate shoreline restoration, climate adaptation, and water quality improvements. 

These victories show the value of partnerships and persistence in finding solutions to improve the health of the Bay and come at a critical time when tidal marsh restoration and other nature-based actions can help the Bay adapt to the changes brought by a warming climate. As recent flooding and extreme storms have made clear, we don’t have time to wait. Now with these additional resources, more restoration projects will be able to get to work. That’s a good way to start the new year.