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Md. Coastal Bays Program to trim research after sequestration cuts

(Aug 9, 2013) The Maryland Coastal Bays Program will lose $88,000 from its annual budget following sequestration cuts set in motion by Congress earlier this year.

The change will go into effect Oct. 1, the beginning the fiscal year for the program, and means trimming some programs in the Southern Bays, Coastal Bays Executive Director Dave Wilson said.

“When the federal government loses 9 percent of its budget, it hurts everybody,” he said.

The affected funding comes from a Clean Water Act grant funneled through the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA was hit with a 5 percent budget cut following sequestration, which it passed on as a 15 percent cut to its 28 estuary program grantees nationwide, he said.

The grant, normally around $600,000, will total $515,000 in the next fiscal year, but the cuts run deeper, Wilson said.

“We leverage 36-to-one for every federal dollar that comes in to the coastal bays,” he said. “When you multiply that effect, you take $88,000 that we lost times 36, and you get $3.2 million.”

Wilson explained that the Costal Bays program, on average, has been able to multiply its federal dollars about 18 times through leveraging, but that number increased last year when Berlin upgraded its sewage treatment plant.

With the cuts, Coastal Bays expects to trim monitoring of underwater grasses and toxic brown tides.

The submerged aquatic vegetation, or SAV, beds in the bays have been monitored since the 1980s, Wilson said. The grasses — eelgrass and widgeon grass — provide “enormous benefits for water quality,” absorb excess nutrients, and house crabs, small fish and other marine life, he said.

“Almost every species (in the area) uses eelgrass or widgeon grass… at some point in its life,” Wilson said.

With the cuts and resulting loss of data “we don’t really know what trajectory that grass is on,” he said. “It’s really, really tough to lose a whole year of data.”

Similar cutbacks are expected in the brown tide monitoring program the Coastal Bays Program has funded through the Department of Natural Resources. With a small staff of nine, Coastal Bays partners with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and University of Maryland to conduct research and collect data.

“We normally give out $100,000 to our partners… to do research in the coastal bays. And that is research that we desperately need to figure out nutrient sources” and other information, Wilson said.

In the upcoming fiscal year, “we can’t give out any grants because of the $88,000 cut,” he said.

Brown tides — deadly algae blooms — are the primarily killer of bivalves like clams and oysters, Wilson said.

“In order to track why hard clams are doing well or not well… we really need to get a good idea of where the brown tide is,” he said.

Maryland Costal Bays raises about $250,000 a year in private donations, has an endowment from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore and receives grants through its local, state and federal partners. It also holds fundraising events, like the annual triathlon at Public Landing and the Poker Paddle, which usually bring in several thousand dollars, Wilson said.

“We know we can’t get the federal money back, but what we’re doing as a staff is looking at how to get the private funds,” he said. “We’ll be asking the community to make up a lot of the slack.”

He knows that won’t be easy, though.

“The cuts that happened in the budget have a ripple effect throughout the whole economy,” Worcester County Director of Economic Development Bill Badger said.

Coastal Bays has already curtailed travel and is considering a downsized version of its new office in response to the cuts, Wilson said.

Whether the funding returns to normal next year will depend on Congress, but “it looks like we’ll have another year of sequestration or continuing resolution, which would hurt,” Wilson said.

The Maryland Coastsal Bays Program might have to cut staff if the cuts continue beyond the next fiscal year, he said.

“It’s a big hit just to the Coastal Bays in general,” Wilson said.

To donate to the Maryland Coastal Bays program, visit www.mdcoastalbays.org/donate-online or mail a check payable to the Maryland Coastal Bays Foundation, 9919 Stephen Decatur Highway, Suite 4, Ocean City, Md. 21842.

For more information, contact Coastal Bays Development Coordinator Sandi Smith at 410-213-2297, extension 107 or at sandis@mdcoastalbays.org.

Visit www.mdcoastalbays.org to learn more about the Costal Bays Program.

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