February 11, 2014
Dear Secretary Jewell,
We are writing regarding the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) announcement to end the National Blueway Program on January 3, 2014. While we are disappointed to see the end of this important program, we are pleased that the new Secretarial order (Order No. 3331) affirms the commitment of DOI to support stakeholder-led watershed partnerships and the importance of coordinating federal agencies to work with these partnerships.
We are also pleased that Sec. 5 of Order No. 3331 reaffirms the designation of the Connecticut River as a Blueway as it “exemplifies coordinated stewardship of a river and its watershed with diverse partnerships.” This designation has yielded positive results by helping to coordinate local organizations and individuals around a set of common priorities and by enabling three federal agencies to formally work together to support these locally-led efforts.
As you know, the President’s FY14 budget proposal included $3.3 million for the Cooperative Watershed Management Program. The Connecticut River could benefit greatly from this funding to improve water quality and ecological resilience through collaborative conservation efforts in the management of local watersheds. Any funding allocated to the Connecticut River would add tremendous capacity to our watershed-wide partnerships and further serve to enhance recreational access and address the need for a watershed-wide River atlas; the latter of which was begun as part of the Blueway package. With the FY14 Interior appropriations bill signed, and the FY15 appropriations process about to begin, we ask that the Department will uphold its funding commitment by obligating funds to help meet the identified goals of the Connecticut River Blueway.
Additionally, there are many other opportunities for DOI to and continue to support a healthy Connecticut River and Connecticut River system. For example, in FY14, DOI proposed $0 in discretionary Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and Collaborative LWCF for the Silvio O. Conte Refuge, the only watershed-based refuge in the country. While 25-percent of the United States population lives within Region 5, not a penny of funding was appropriated to Region 5 refuges in FY14. More than 70 million residents live within a day’s drive of the Conte refuge and unanimous Congressional support exists for LWCF and the Conte Refuge within our four state delegation. Our previous correspondences identify over $14 million in available projects, many of them with critical time restraints. We respectfully urge you to provide adequate funding for LWCF for FY15 and beyond.
As you know, a key achievement of the Connecticut River Blueway designation was the development of a groundbreaking Memorandum of Understanding that DOI signed with other Federal agencies including US Department of Agriculture and US Army Corps of Engineers. Any assistance DOI can lend for support and continued engagement for the Connecticut River and Conte Refuge from these key agencies is greatly appreciated.
Across the country, our river systems provide a wide range of important benefits to our communities and our nation. They provide drinking water, support commerce and industry, provide important close-to-home recreational opportunities, and are vital to the health of our environment. Only by working together, building partnerships, and combining our resources and our talents can we manage these systems to continue to produce these benefits. We remain committed to working with partners, both public and private, to advance locally-developed, nationally-supported, watershed-based solutions to these challenges.
While we are sorry that the program could not move forward as originally envisioned, we see real possibilities for further collaboration with DOI under the new Secretarial Order. To that end, we look forward to working with you and your staff to establish a path to meet those goals.
Chair, Friends of the Silvio O. Conte RefugeCC: Senator Leahy Senator Sanders Senator Ayotte Senator Shaheen Senator Blumenthal Senator Murphy Senator Markey Senator Warren Rep. Neal Rep. McGovern Rep. Courtney Rep. DeLauro Rep. Etsy Rep. Larson Rep. Shea-Porter Rep. Kuster Rep. Welch