CAPE MAY — Delaware Bay advocates are hoping damage from Hurricane Sandy will raise awareness to bring in more funds to protect the body of water that serves three states.
But for that to happen, stakeholders must overcome a funding disparity that sees the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency give $20 million each year for work on the Chesapeake Bay but only $600,000 to the Delaware Bay, said Danielle Kreeger, science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
The funding disparity is also apparent at other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Kreeger said.
The Delaware Estuary has 9 million people compared with 10 million in the Chesapeake region, although more federal lawmakers live in the Chesapeake region, she said. The Chesapeake is geographically larger, at 40,000 square miles compared with 14,000 square miles for the Delaware, but the funding levels should not be so far apart, she said.
“It shouldn’t be 38-1. Sandy could change that and bring more national resources to bear on this region. We just don’t want the bayshore to be ignored,” said Kreeger, whose comments came last week at the start of a four-day summit held by the partnership at The Grand Hotel.
The summit drew almost 300 scientists, educators, environmentalists, policymakers and conservation land managers. Most agreed the estuary needs help.
Kreeger said Sandy finally got people listening to what the partnership has been saying for several years. It was noticed that bayshore areas with healthy marshes, beaches and dunes suffered less damage during the storm. The question is whether there is any money to make further improvements.
The partnership has been sounding alarms about rising sea levels, wetlands losses and land subsidence for several years now along the watershed that serves Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Such changes can affect coastal communities, wildlife and water supplies used by millions of people.
Kreeger noted over the past few years the estuary has suffered some of the worst recorded flooding events, including Sandy in 2012 as well as Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. She said there appear to be some new weather patterns affecting the estuary.
“We need higher confidence in storm predictions. That’s critical. And we need to plan for sea-level rise. What will change the coast are storm events,” Kreeger said.
The challenge has scientists looking for new cost-effective solutions. Partnership Executive Director Jennifer Adkins said one idea is to use dredge spoils to bolster marshes, something environmental agencies historically frown on.
“We are looking into reusing sediment to get it to where we need it. Get it out of channels and get it on wetlands. We’re starting to think of sediment as one of our resources, but you have to be concerned about the quality of it,” Adkins said.
Another project, already tested at Matt’s Landing in Maurice River Township, Cumberland County, replaced concrete riprap with a “living shoreline” using coconut mats and tubes as a base to grow saltwater cord grasses, with ribbed mussels and oysters making a reef in front of it. Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences is developing commercial-scale operations to grow ribbed mussels for shoreline stabilization projects.
There were other positive developments reported at the summit. The Rutgers University aquaculture facility on the Cape May Canal is experimenting with growing horseshoe crabs. Delaware is working on an early-warning flood advisory system that promises to give estuary residents four days’ warning to evacuate.
Water quality is also improving, and some fisheries are thriving, such as striped bass and blue crabs. The famous blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, sold at seafood restaurants in Maryland, often are from the Delaware Bay, Kreeger said.
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