Oversight Hearing Sheds Light on Agency Plans

The state Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife conducted its first oversight hearing on Proposition 1, the 2014 California Water Bond. The hearing provided an overview of Proposition 1 and insights as to how responsible agencies plan to solicit, evaluate and rank project proposals.

All but the storage chapters of the $7.545 billion bond funding will be proposed each January in the Governor’s budget. As part of the 2015-16 Budget, Governor Brown identified $532.5 million in initial proposed Proposition 1 spending, highlighting his California Water Action Plan.

The hearing included an overview by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, comments from a panel of state agencies responsible for implementing the bond funding, and recommendations for maximizing public benefit from a diverse stakeholder panel. Groundwater sustainability, (Chapter 10), water storage (Chapter 8) and safe drinking water (Chapter 5) received the most attention; public comment was heard at the end.

INRM PERSPECTIVE

INRM was encouraged to hear expert after expert compel the Committee to adopt strategies that address resources in an integrated manner and achieve multiple resource benefits. Many also heralded the wisdom of using bond funds in tandem with other funding mechanisms (e.g. cap-and-trade dollars under AB 32) to best leverage limited resources.

Our joy at the call for integrated action was dampened somewhat by the noticeably absent discussion of California’s upper watersheds, the source of most of the state’s water, and ecosystems that are undeniably stressed with heavy fuel loads and likely to become more dangerous as our climate becomes warmer and drier. INRM president Mark Rentz noted as much during his public comments, adding that “well-designed management actions to thin uncharacteristically dense forests can reduce the risk and intensity of wildfires that have deleterious impacts on water quality and water storage capacity, and can potentially increase water yield from those watersheds.”

Mr. Rentz, naturally pointed out that such actions can also “protect wildlife habitat, improve biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with today’s megafires, increase forest carbon sequestration and provide the raw material (biomass) for renewable, green bioenergy.”

Proposition 1 could provide a golden opportunity to address immediate challenges and prepare strategically for the future. But if elements are ignored, if we fail to acknowledge the role well managed watersheds play in attaining water supply reliability or overlook the need to consider how manmade systems must work in concert with natural systems, the influx of funds from Prop 1 and cap-and-trade markets will not be utilized to its fullest potential and California will again be looking at an opportunity lost.

To take full advantage of the opportunity at hand we must think creatively, work cooperatively and collaborate in earnest.

The majority of bond funds will be distributed through a competitive bid process: each agency with the authority to distribute funds must develop guidelines for soliciting project proposals. These guidelines will also provide the criteria the agency will use to evaluate project proposals.  Proposition 1 requires the agencies to solicit public input when developing their guidelines.

Involvement during these early stages is critical for those who are planning to submit project proposals.

INRM can assist those seeking to better understand the draft guidelines and their impacts on implementing projects as they pertain to available funding. We can also assist in developing project proposals that incorporate an integrated approach and multiple resources benefits.  Contact Mark Rentz at (916) 449-3927 or mrentz@naturalresourcesmgmt.net for more information.

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