The Environmental Protection Agency expects to fund about $1 million in grants for projects to reduce toxins in the Columbia Basin.

The new program was created by Congress as an amendment to the Clean Water Act through the 2016 Columbia River Basin Restoration Act. The legislation seeks to put the Columbia Basin on par with other large aquatic ecosystems for toxic cleanup funding. This is the first year funding will be available.

The agency says that despite decades of effort to mitigate impacts from human activities on the Columbia River, addressing water quality or toxic pollution has not been a major focus. Water quality issues can be addressed by reducing pollution, including toxins that accumulate in water, sediment and fish tissues.

EPA announced that the agency is issuing two requests for applications—one for the lower Columbia River estuary and one for the middle and upper Columbia River. States, tribes, local governments, regional pollution control organizations, nongovernmental organizations and conservation districts are encouraged to apply.

EPA's goals for successful applicants include increasing monitoring and access to data from monitoring; reducing stormwater and agricultural runoff; promoting citizen engagement or education to prevent pollution; and targeting small-scale cleanup actions to reduce toxins entering the river. The grants must involve environmental protection or restoration within the Columbia River basin, and may include programs, projects or studies.

Applications must be submitted electronically by Dec. 20. Successful applicants will be selected between February and September 2020.

A webinar about the grant request for application process will be held from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 25. Information is also available at EPA's Columbia River basin grant program website.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.