To spend even an hour down near the surface of the Columbia River estuary is to be infused with profound appreciation for this miracle that forms the world's grandest front yard for Ilwaco, Chinook and other lucky communities.

With similar quiet force, the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership continues to perform an impressive array of essential stewardship tasks on behalf of this precious asset.

These include important educational functions such as instilling school children with a first-hand appreciation of the interplay between humanity and this fragile set of riparian habitats. But the estuary partnership's educational mission extends far deeper, also encompassing an array of scientific inquiry that will help citizens and leaders make better decisions about our river. Meaningful works continue also on physically restoring habitat, monitoring pollution, assisting local governments and other important tasks.

Like many federally sponsored natural-resource entities, the estuary partnership has not enjoyed lavish funding in recent years. Much as it has achieved, far more work is needed. The century and a half since white settlement began has witnessed a loss of more than half the tidal wetlands, forests and other habitats that once made this the world's most-productive salmon river. Just in the years between 1980 and 2000, personal income from commercial salmon fishing on the Columbia plunged from about $41 million a year to $4 million. A noxious assortment of toxins continues to turn up in the river's sediment, water, fish and wildlife.

It is flattering to consider that in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the Columbia River Basin as one of the seven Great Water Bodies in America, joining Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, South Florida Ecosystem, Long Island Sound and Puget Sound. At the same time, it is depressing and more than a little irritating that the Columbia Basin is the only Great Water Body to not receive any federal funds in the budget cycle that just ended.

Working with Oregon and Washington, the tribes, industry, conservation groups and other stakeholders, the estuary partnership is building on existing efforts. It is getting results.

Even in a time of historic economic challenges for our nation, it is essential that Congress continue to support the National Estuary Program and improve federal funding for work here on the Columbia. We citizens who most directly benefit from the estuary partnership's actions must tell Congress that it deserves full-fledged backing in the next budget.

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