Water Bond Legislation Meanders Around Watersheds

The following are excerpts from a June 13th letter from CWN to Senator Wolk, author of SB 848, one of the leading pieces of water bond legislation:
There are too many concerns and issues that need to be addressed before we can ask members of community-based restoration groups to stand up and support most of the current bond proposals.

  • We are pleased that most drafts funding the Integrated Regional Water Management Program (IRWMP) are being returned to the original intent (Section 79724) as a jointly managed program created by Prop 50 in 2003, that allocated half of the funding to DWR and the Water Board, mandating silo-crossing coordination in program administration. However, those sections providing authority to the California Water Commission over projects defeats the purpose of collaboration to ensure a broadly focused program of water management projects integrating structural and natural resource improvements. The Commission does not have the capacity or experience to appraise the value of natural resource projects in watersheds that often provide the most cost effective water management and enhancement solutions. We suggest that granting the Commission this role is an unacceptable policy shift.
  • Substantial funds are allocated for watershed focused projects in rural and urban areas fortunate to have a state conservancy, but the current drafts do not make specific funding available to urban watersheds in general (Section 79738). While the Wildlife Conservation Board is often mentioned with allocated funds for statewide projects, our perspective is that the WCB focus has been limited in scope and has avoided suburban and urban areas. We suggest that either a specific amount needs to be allocated for urban watersheds or a portion (perhaps $30 million) of the WCB funding should be dedicated to urban watersheds not otherwise within a state conservancy.
  • One draft had $200 million allocated to the Natural Resources Agency for multi-benefit urban watershed projects, with 75% of that amount dedicated to the Los Angeles River and its tributaries (Section 79739). The remaining $50 million would be wholly inadequate for the balance of the state and will deprive many areas of projects providing important community benefits. We suggest that a minimum of $75 million must be available to urban watersheds other than the LA River.
  • The DWR Urban Streams Restoration Program has a long standing proven record of helping often disadvantaged communities to improve water quality, manage storm water and improve neighborhoods. Our research has shown that the IRWMP process has neglected smaller communities and their proposed projects. We suggest that the Urban Streams program be explicitly made eligible for watershed funding or small communities will again be overlooked.
  • The common language frequently in bond measures regarding the use of the California or local conservation corps’ has proven to be ineffective in fully utilizing these valuable resources (Section 79778(h)). The Corps’ ‘Watershed Stewards Project’ is a unique partnership program designed to support highly trained youth inaugurating a career in natural resource and watershed sciences. We suggest a direct allocation to the WSP ($15 million) will allow it to be a partner with other state agencies, communities, and non-profit entities by providing in-kind matching funds to develop green jobs and undertake watershed restoration and other resource protection projects.
  • Using unencumbered funds from certain past bond measures to be appropriated to a limited number of alternative programs is critical to urban communities chronically face funding shortages. For example the DWR Urban Streams Restoration program will have no funding starting in 2015/16. We suggest that urban watershed programs (including DWR’s Urban Stream Restoration, CDF’s Urban Forestry, and the River Parkway programs) should also be eligible for legislative appropriations of these unencumbered funds.
  • Several bond drafts seemingly make funding available to urban waterways and appear to exclude urban streams and creeks in favor of urban rivers. Likewise the bill neglects the integration of flood management, water quality, and water recharge values from the restoration of riparian areas. We suggest that the final bill ensure that restoration and protection of both rural and urban creeks and streams and riparian areas qualify for funding due to their significant public benefits.

As we noted in our February comments to Senator Pavely when SB 848 first went to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, there is little in that bill to bring out voters from the non-profit, community restoration and beach/river groups. We urge the Legislature and Administration to keep California's community volunteers in mind and include our suggestions in the final water bond proposal.

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March 11 - 14, 2015
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April 29, 2015

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California Watershed Coalition White Paper: Watershed Project Finance Recommendations. Read it.

Calif. Urban Streams Partnership's White Paper: Funding Urban Watershed Projects Recommendations for a 2014 Water Bond. Download here.

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Secretary Snow's 2010 White Paper and Action Plan for Integrated Resource Management. Read it.

View the Statewide Watershed Program Update and the Advisory Committee Members.

Integrating Watershed Principles into IRWMP. Learn more.

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