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Working Together to Restore Polluted Waterways

20 January 2022

In this video message, NOS Assistant Administrator Nicole LeBoeuf discusses how NOAA and our partners recovered over 130 million dollars to restore 10 polluted waterways in six states in 2021.    (Video Transcript)

Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Assistant Administrator
Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management,
National Ocean Service

Video Transcript

Hello everyone! I’m Nicole LeBoeuf, Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. As a part of our science, service, and stewardship mission, NOAA plays a vital role in protecting the nation’s coastal and marine resources and in restoring them when they are harmed by oil spills, releases of hazardous waste, and vessel groundings. NOAA serves as a trustee for these vital resources and works in partnership with our co-trustees from state, Tribal, and other Federal agencies in natural resource damage assessment and restoration. You see, when pollution harms our waterways, it damages important habitats for plants and animals, and degrades the quality of life for people who live, work, and recreate in impacted and neighboring areas. Restoring the environment means implementing projects that help habitats, wildlife, and coastal communities recover quickly and completely.

In 2021, NOAA and our partners recovered over 130 million dollars to restore 10 polluted waterways in six states. We did this by first conducting scientific and economic studies to evaluate the impacts of pollution on these waterways. We then reached legal agreements with those responsible for the pollution to pay for the restoration projects in these areas.

For example, the Lower Duwamish River in Washington State, has been contaminated with a variety of toxic chemicals from many sources since the early 1900s. Migratory salmon that use the river as a nursery have been harmed. Local Native American Tribes for whom salmon have enormous cultural value have also been impacted. Two legal settlements in 2021 yielded over 50 million dollars for restoration of habitats around Lower Duwamish River that will benefit fish and wildlife, including threatened salmon species.

In Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara, California, a pipeline ruptured in 2015, spilling over 100,000 gallons of crude oil, much of which flowed onto beaches and into the Pacific Ocean. The oil harmed marine wildlife and adversely affected shoreline areas, underwater habitats, beaches, and parks. Fortunately, over 20 million dollars was secured for restoration of coastal ecosystems, recreational areas, fish, and wildlife affected by the spill. 

The Kalamazoo River in Michigan was contaminated when chemicals known as PCBs were released from paper mills into the river. Fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation were significantly impacted. In the end, 25 million dollars was obtained for partial restoration of the Kalamazoo, including dam removals, land conservation, and enhancement of river shoreline habitats.

These cases illustrate the harm that can occur from oil spills and other types of contamination, and show what is possible when we work with those responsible for the pollution to provide restoration. Restoration projects are good for natural habitats and offer economic benefits to coastal communities, including underserved and indigenous communities too often disproportionately affected by pollution. Restoration also promotes the sustainable use of healthy coastal resources, vital to the long term health of our ocean and our coastal communities.

For more than 30 years, NOAA has worked with our partners to secure over 10.5 billion dollars to restore critical coastal habitats, fisheries, endangered species, and outdoor recreational areas impacted by pollution around the country. When NOAA obtains settlement agreements supporting projects that restore waterways — all Americans benefit. On behalf of the NOAA workforce, we are proud of the work we do to safeguard America’s coastal resources and help the environment recover. Thank you.

Assistant Administrator (Actg.) Portrait

Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Assistant Administrator, National Ocean Service

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