Local environmental education and conservation programs may be eligible to receive a boost in funding, thanks to the $350,000 in grants now available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The additional funding is available through a recent expansion of the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program into Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, supported by 23rd District Congresswoman Lois Capps. The money from the grants is intended for programs which educate students and teachers about the local marine environment. To receive a B-WET grant, the proposed project must contain subject matter dealing with watersheds – the land that surrounds and drains into a body of water.

Shannon Lohrmann, press secretary to Capps, said interested groups must submit applications to NOAA, which decides who will receive funding, by Feb. 21. In the past, NOAA has allocated grants of at least $10,000 to the chosen applicants, she said. Local schools, universities, nonprofit groups, agencies and Native American tribes are eligible to apply.

“[The grant money] is intended for very integrated education plans for schools and nonprofits,” Lohrmann said. “The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary could apply, as well as public schools and UCSB, and they would come up with educational programs for [local] kids using different subjects like science and math. … They would integrate [the programs] throughout the whole year.”

Kira Schmidt, executive director of Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper, said her organization will attempt to secure B-WET funds to expand their exhibit at the Ty Warner Sea Center and enlarge its Stream Team, a volunteer group that monitors local water quality. She said B-WET grants are available for programs that target K-12 students or teachers.

“There are two different areas where you can apply for funding,” Schmidt said. “One is for meaningful watershed experiences for young people and environmental education, and the other is for professional development for educators in environmental education.”

Lohrmann said Capps, who announced the expansion of B-WET into the area on Jan. 20, was instrumental in convincing Congress to finance the program. People interested in applying for the program are welcome to contact Capps’s office for more information or help writing grant applications.

“[Capps] secured the funding,” Lohrmann said. “She had asked for it and fought for it, so when this particular appropriations bill came down through Congress she made sure this funding was included.”

According to a press release from Capps’ office, B-WET started in 2002 with programs in the Chesapeake Bay, Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay and the Hawaiian Islands. In the press release, Capps said she thinks B-WET will benefit the entire Central Coast.

“B-WET will teach our children environmental stewardship and how to protect watersheds, which is so important to all of the residents of the Central Coast,” Capps said. “These projects teach students about science, health, the environment and our role in protecting our local watershed.”

Schmidt said she thinks local organizations are excited about B-WET’s expansion into Santa Barbara and Ventura because nothing like it has ever been available in the area.

“It’s great for local organizations and agencies because it’s a pot of money that wasn’t previously available for us to expand environmental education and watershed programs in the counties,” Schmidt said.