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Clean Water Costs Money. Dirty Water Costs More.

I have been receiving some feedback and concerns regarding the $350 million per year of federal funding that the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act is proposing to authorize. This breaks down, theoretically, into $300 million to be applied to the green infrastructure grants program, $25 million to establish and run the Centers of Excellence, and $25 million for the new Green Infrastructure Program housed within the EPA’s Office of Water.

Now I say theoretically, because authorized does not, and as is often the case with environmental programs, will likely not, result in the entire amount being awarded in any given budget year. The authorized level of $350 million is just a cap. Congress still needs to go through the budget process and decide every year the exact appropriation, or how much money the program will really receive.

For a few years now, Surfrider has been trying to build support for increased appropriations for the BEACH Act. This bill funds EPA beach grants that pass through to state and local governments to pay for beach monitoring programs. Although, the BEACH Act is authorized at $30 million per year, Congress has never actually appropriated more than $10 million since its passage in 2000.

So whether we are talking about $350 million or even just $100 million, at first glance it seems like a whole lot of money. If you break it down though, we’re only really talking about $1 per person in the US. Are clean water and clean beaches worth $1 to you? They are to me.

Also, in comparison to the total federal budget, 3.52 trillion in 2009 (yes I said TRILLION), this proposed bill would only make up 0.002% -0.01%.

Another figure that is way beyond the scale of $350 million, is $200 billion, and that is a conservative estimate of the value of coastal tourism and fishing economies in this country, according to “Oceans Under the Gun: Living Seas or Drilling Seas?”, a report released by Environment America. Polluted stormwater threatens both of these industries. For many years running, stormwater has caused more beach closures and swimming advisories than any other source. If we continue to conduct business as usual, our problems with stormwater runoff will worsen as we continue to pave and develop our coastal watersheds. Our beaches will become even more polluted, affecting both our quality of life and our wallets.

Low impact development and green infrastructure use cost effective, best management techniques to stop rainwater before it runs off a property and becomes a problem. These natural solutions restore the water cycle by allowing rain to soak back into the ground.

Local governments are slowly beginning to be aware of the benefits of low impact development and the ‘greening’ of neighborhoods, but in order for this to really catch on in a way that will really change the way we treat our land, a serious federal investment is needed.

Is $350 million a lot of money? Yes. Are our beaches worth it? Absolutely.