Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

The National Estuary Program was established in 1987 by an amendment to the Clean Water Act to identify, restore and protect estuaries along the coasts of the United States. In 1995, Governor Lawton Chiles submitted an application to designate the estuarine system around Charlotte Harbor. The application was accepted by EPA and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program was created (CHNEP). There are now 28 “estuaries of national significance” within the National Estuary Program.

The Plan

In 1996, a decision-making team of local citizens, elected officials, resource managers and resource users, known as the Management Conference, set to work to develop a 20-year Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that identifies the region’s common priority environment issues and actions needed to solve them.

The CCMP was accepted in 2001 then updated in 2008. The four priority problems throughout the region that impact the health of the estuaries are stewardship gaps, fish and wildlife habitat loss, water quality degradation and hydrologic alterations.

The specific purpose of the CHNEP is to ensure that the CCMP to protect the natural environment from Venice to Bonita Springs to Winter Haven is implemented through a partnership by engaging and empowering local citizens, scientists, elected officials, resource managers and resource users.

The region of concern includes the Myakka, Peace and tidal Caloosahatchee river watersheds as the water can’t be protected unless the land that drains into it is also protected. The 4,700-square-mile watershed includes Lee, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee counties and portions of Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Financial Partners

The CHNEP’s federal parent is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA reviews CHNEP’s progress once every three years. The Program’s local host is the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. Many government agencies, counties and cities provide financial support to the CHNEP. (Details about funding provided each year are in the CHNEP's annual workplans.) Some outreach projects are also supported by local foundations, conservation organizations and businesses.

Management Conference

The CHNEP partnership is directed by the Management Conference of four committees. The Management Conference is composed of the Management, Policy, Technical Advisory (TAC) and Citizens Advisory Committees (CAC). Each committee serves a specialized role in supporting the program goals and objectives. The Policy Committee is the final authority over the CHNEP. The Management Committee oversees program operation. The TAC oversees guides technical decisions. The CAC represents the interests of the public.

Membership in both the Management and Policy Committee is established by that committee’s bylaws. The positions held are appointed by the individual agencies listed in the bylaws. The Policy Committee appoints TAC and CAC members.

CAC and TAC provide recommendations independently to the Management and Policy Committees.  The Management Committee considers TAC and CAC recommendations and they issue their own recommendations.  The Policy Committee considers the recommendations of the three committees and is the final authority of the CHNEP. The Policy Committee is keenly interested in the opinions of all three committees.