Governor Jerry Brown announced his proposed budget for 2014-15 today. For the first time in two years, no budget cuts are proposed for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), while the State Water Resources Control Board stands to receive a transfer of $200 million and 291 positions from the state Dept. of Public Health to take over administration of programs to ensure clean and safe drinking water, especially in communities with groundwater contamination.
On a conference call with stakeholders, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said she has been working to secure funding support for the Williamson Act or another program like it which protects and preserves farmland. The Governor’s budget proposes $100 million from “cap-and-trade” program revenues under the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law to be directed to a “Sustainable Communities” program, which includes farmland preservation. Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said in a conference call that he supports the goals of the Williamson Act and noted his concern that several counties have ceased entering into new Williamson Act contracts as a result of the state’s elimination of funding during the recent budget crisis. While Laird did not commit a specific portion of the “Sustainable Communities” funding to the Williamson Act, his comments give cause for optimism.
Also included in the proposed CDFA budget is $5 million for the Nitrogen Research and Management Program to fund research and technical assistance on reducing nitrous oxide emissions, and water and nitrogen movement in the environment, along with evaluation of water and nitrogen management practices.
The budget for the State Water Resources Control Board and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards includes $1 billion with only $23 million coming from the General Fund. User fees imposed on businesses provide nearly all the funding for these programs. Tom Howard, executive officer of the State Water Resources Control Board, said there would be some fee implications, which is a polite way of saying the Administration intends to seek fee increases. Stakeholder meetings will start soon; WG will be actively engaged.
Brown’s budget also addresses the management of groundwater, saying, “The state should protect groundwater basins that are at risk of permanent damage when a local agency is unable or unwilling to do so.”
The budget includes: $11.9 million from various fund sources and 10 new positions to manage groundwater and improve drinking water in disadvantaged communities; $1.8 million from the Waste Discharge Permit Fund; and 11 new positions to address illegal stream diversions, as well as discharges of pollutants into waterways from impacts of illegal marijuana cultivation.
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