July 22, 2013: The House and Senate have released a compromise budget proposal to be voted on by both chambers this week. The budget comes in two pieces: 1. The report on continuation, expansion and capital budget (the “money report”) shows the proposed changes up or down in appropriations for state agencies. The money report also shows funds set aside for state capital improvement projects. You can find a copy of the money report here; 2. The conference committee report on the budget bill (Senate Bill 402) has the text of statute changes being adopted as part of the budget. Some of the statute changes are needed because of appropriations decisions; others pop up in the budget bill for more strategic reasons and have very little relationship to budgeting. Another post will provide an overview of budget decisions affecting environmental programs. This post focuses on one of the most significant — the reorganization of water quality and water resources programs and a large budget cut associated with the reorganization.
The money report shows a $2 million cut to water quality and water resource programs beginning the second year of the biennium (2014-2015) from savings to be realized by combining the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) and the Division of Water Resources (DWR). The $2 million dollar reduction represents 12.4% of state appropriations to programs in the two divisions in 2012 and comes on top of a department-wide budget reduction of 2% also required in the compromise budget. An earlier post talked about DENR’s plans to reorganize the state’s water quality programs and anticipated some reduction in positions as part of the reorganization. The questions raised in the earlier post become more important given the magnitude of the cut proposed in the budget bill.
The challenge comes from the fact that the two divisions do very different things. The Division of Water Quality has responsibility for the quality of water in rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers. DWQ develops and enforces state water quality standards. DWQ also carries out federal Clean Water Act programs, including permitting programs for wastewater discharges, stormwater discharges and development activities affecting streams and wetlands. The Division of Water Resources deals with water quantity — the amount of water available in rivers, lakes, streams and underground aquifers; water supply planning; drought response; and regulation of public water systems. Functions of the two divisions intersect at points (and there may well be some efficiencies there), but do not overlap. The kind of data needed to monitor water quality in a river is different from the data needed to understand the volume of water in the same river. Water supply planning and water quality planning are not exactly the same thing – it may well make sense to marry the two, but the marriage will only work if there are still sufficient resources to look at both water quality and quantity. After four years of budget cuts, it will be difficult to achieve the 12.4% reduction required in the budget without compromising either the level of service provided to permit applicants or water quality/water supply monitoring and planning activities.
When the earlier post was written in June, the word on the street had been that DENR planned to transfer all of the state’s stormwater programs to the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources (DEMLR) effective August 1 and move remaining Division of Water Quality programs into the Division of Water Resources. About the time word began to get out about the department’s reorganization plans, the Senate put language in House Bill 94 (and later in House Bill 74) directing DENR to combine the Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources. The Senate language seemed to anticipate that stormwater programs would go to the Division of Water Resources with other DWQ programs. (Both bills made changes to a number of state stormwater statutes to substitute “Division of Water Resources” for “Division of Water Quality”.) Those bills are still waiting for final action and until that happens, there may be lingering questions about exactly what form the reorganization will take.
See the earlier post for more about the implications of moving stormwater programs to the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources. Whatever the final configuration of the state’s water quality programs, the budget cut will be a challenge. The sedimentation pollution control program in DEMLR (the only water quality -related program in that division) has already been decimated by budget cuts that reduced sedimentation program staff by 35% over the last four years. As the number of sedimentation program staff declined, the number of open construction sites to be monitored for sedimentation and erosion control did not. (“Open” construction sites includes sites actively under construction and sites where construction stopped before completion of the project.) There are now 40 state sedimentation staff to manage an inventory of 8,000 open construction sites across the state. The gap between open construction sites and state staff to enforce the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act will only become larger as new development activity picks up. There are no efficiencies left to wring out of the sedimentation program and it isn’t clear that DWQ stormwater programs could help given other state and federal stormwater responsibilities.
The question for DENR is whether any combination of programs can absorb the additional reduction without damaging essential water quality programs. After the budget reductions of the last four years, can the department continue to do all of the things required for delegated Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act programs, maintain water quality and water supply planning functions, enforce the state Sedimentation Pollution Control Act, and provide good customer service with another 12.4% budget cut targeting water quality and water resources programs?
NOTE: The original post was modified to make it clear that the $2 million cut begins in the second year of the biennium (2014-2015).