2015 is CHNEP’s 20th year as successful partnership
The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program is celebrating two decades of work by community stakeholders to improve the health of the water, habitat and living resources of our estuaries of national significance from Venice to Bonita Springs and the 4,700 square mile watershed in the seven counties that provide freshwater into the estuaries–where fresh and saltwater mix.

In the beginning. . .
The National Estuary Program (NEP) was authorized by the U.S. Congress under the 1987 Amendments to the Clean Water Act to improve estuarine waters, habitats and living resources by working with local partners and the public. Congress recognized that in order to achieve long-term protection of water quality and living resources—the fundamental “fishable, swimmable” goals of the Clean Water Act—the participation of those most affected by environmental decisions is essential and critical. Since its beginning in 1995, NEP has grown to include 28 “estuaries of national significance.”

What began as an alternative to traditional command-and-control regulatory approaches to water quality problems is considered by the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency, the NEP’s federal host, to be their flagship watershed effort with its integrated, watershed-based, stakeholder-oriented, water resource management.

On March 7, 1995, Florida Governor Chiles submitted the nomination to U.S. EPA to designate the greater Charlotte Harbor estuarine system as an estuary of national significance. On July 6, 1995, seven nominations were accepted and became NEPs. One of the seven is now known as the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP). Once selected for inclusion, a decision-making team identifies and prioritizes the problems in the estuary. A plan is developed, approved and then implemented.

CHNEP celebrating 20 years of protecting the natural environment of southwest Florida
By engaging local communities in the process, NEPs focus on improving water quality in their estuaries while maintaining the integrity of the natural system as a whole— its chemical, physical and biological properties as well as its economic, recreational and aesthetic values—thereby strengthening the land-water connection.

From the beginning, the CHNEP partnership of citizens, elected officials, resource managers, and commercial and recreational resource users have successfully worked together as an advocate for the 4,700-square-mile estuarine watershed from Venice to Bonita Springs to Winter Haven by building consensus that is based on sound science.

The partnership team meets as four committees that together are known as the Management Conference. Local problems are identified, goals established, information collected and special projects are funded with a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The plan identifies the region’s common priority environmental issues and the actions needed to solve them. When the CCMP was first completed and accepted in 2001, it marked the beginning of action to protect and restore the estuaries and watersheds. The CCMP was updated in 2008 and 2013. An update of the 20-year plan is initiated every five years.

The CHNEP implements the CCMP by building partnerships to develop integrated plans, education and outreach programs and management structures to achieve a sustainable balance between the economy, society and the environment.
The Management Conference reviews progress and identifies concerns not consistent with the plan’s goals — continuing to use a cooperative decision-making process based on sound science. The Management Conference addresses these concerns and, when consensus is reached, that position is presented by the CHNEP — backed by its partners, including the counties, cities, businesses, environmental organizations, government agencies and citizens of the watershed.

In its 20 years, the CHNEP and its partners have had many successes. A few are highlighted here.

Stakeholders. The CHNEP’s four committees each serve a specialized role; but collectively are able to bring diverse interests, expertise and resources together to focus on issues in a holistic way. Together they are able to cooperate in identifying gaps, prioritize needs and offer resources so that the sum is greater than the total of the individual contributions. Many others are involved in ways than through the committees.

Focus: The CHNEP is a forum to discuss issues and create a common language. For example, many water quality monitoring programs are now done using similar techniques so that the data can be compared no matter who collected the samples. The CHNEP brings information together and freely makes it accessible using the latest technologies. The Charlotte Harbor Watershed Summit is held every three years to review progress and discuss current and emerging issues that cross disciplines and geographies. The Charlotte Harbor Water Atlas is a web-based tool that provides comprehensive water quality, hydrologic and ecological data collected by CHNEP partners.

Support of its partners. The CHNEP awarded more than 800 grants to Florida citizens, organizations, businesses, government agencies, schools, colleges and universities to support research, monitoring, restoration and educational projects that benefit the natural resources in the watershed, enhance our technical knowledge or improve community awareness. The CHNEP has also been able to support its partners by offering grant-writing and administration assistance for projects that help protect and restore our estuaries and watersheds.

The CHNEP has developed “communities of practice” on environmental education and conservation lands through its workshops, providing opportunities to network and learn more about solutions to issues facing the natural environment of southwest Florida. Trainings are offered regularly to build partners’ capacity to successfully address issues.

Engagement. The CHNEP reaches the interested public through its quarterly magazine that focuses on environmental “happenings” in the region, its annual calendars of donated images, the Charlotte Harbor Nature Festival and in other ways. The new-and-improved website for multiple devices is now available and we’re now on social media, including YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Join us!
In celebration of its first 20 years, the CHNEP is seeking nominations of people who have made a difference. More guidance is provided on page 5.

Please join our partnership to protect the natural environment of southwest Florida. Learn more through this website (, attending an upcoming event, volunteering on projects and following us in the social world.

The CHNEP study area is a special place. Three large rivers — the Myakka, Peace and Caloosahatchee — flow westward to the Gulf of Mexico. These rivers start as headwater wetlands, lakes, creeks and ground water that combine and meander until they become substantial rivers. The rivers flow through cities and towns, cattle pastures and citrus groves, pine flatwoods and cypress swamps. When these rivers meet the salty water of the Gulf of Mexico, they form estuaries, which are one of the most productive natural systems on earth. Coastal bays such as Lemon Bay and Estero Bay are influenced by smaller streams and are spectacular havens for fish and wildlife. The CHNEP study area is defined by subtle topography, subtropical climate and subtropical plant communities.