WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration will ask Congress for $21 million next year to create a new program within the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at restoring pollution-damaged streams and rivers.
With the new program, the agency plans to choose 10 watersheds that deserve more protection through grants to states, tribes and local communities, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said Friday.
She announced the program during a visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minn.
"The biggest challenges we face in water now is from nonpoint source pollution and the best way to address that is a watershed-based approach," Whitman told The Associated Press.
Unlike pollution leaking from industrial and sewage treatment plants, nonpoint source pollution comes from many sources.
Rainfall or melted snow moving on the ground picks up natural and man-made pollutants, like fertilizers, toxic chemicals from urban runoff and acid drainage from abandoned mines.
Some of the watershed problems include loss of habitats, an overload of nutrients, pathogens and the introduction of species that aren't native to an area.
If the new program is approved, Whitman said, EPA officials would work closely with governors, tribal officials and local representatives to expand watershed protection training and education.
Congress now appropriates money to protect specific watersheds such as the Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Long Island Sound and the Great Lakes.
"The existing funding for watershed protection has been unorganized and spread unevenly," said Tom Schueler, executive director of the Ellicott City, Md.-based Center for Watershed Protection.
As with many administrations, EPA's announcement was part of a strategy calling attention to proposed spending measures before the entire budget is released on Feb. 4.
The $2.1 trillion budget for 2003 that President Bush will send to Congress also will include cuts or freezes in many programs to keep next year's projected deficit as small as possible.
On the Net:
EPA site: http://www.epa.gov/owow/watershed
Center for Watershed Protection: http://www.cwp.org
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