- Report Published -
|2012 Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Districts Funding Study - December 7, 2012|
|Secretary of Natural Resources|
|Appropriation Act - Item 360 A.2. (Special Session I, 2012)|
This report details the results of the study requested pursuant to Item 360 of the 2012 Budget Bill (HB1301).
As requested, the report provides specific recommendations developed by a stakeholder group on making the funding for the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (Districts) more transparent by defining “technical assistance” and allocating funds to subgroups which describe the use of the funds.
In addition, the report also provides options, again developed by a stakeholder group, for funding the state’s portion of the agricultural best management practices (BMPs) needed to meet the 2017 and 2025 goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), as well as the estimated cost needed to meet the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) established in the impaired Southern Rivers.
The report attempts to approximate the expenditures of implementing these plans based on the efficiencies and associated costs for specific agricultural BMPs. However, in their effort to make these estimates, the stakeholder group was not able to take into account certain issues that greatly affect these costs to the state. For example:
First, costs and clean-up plans for the Southern Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay are not the same.
The cost estimates included in this report assume that water clean-up plans in the Southern Rivers are on the same timetable as those associated with the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. This is not correct and while there are schedules determined for many of the Southern Rivers, there is no compelling reason for the state to fund Southern River clean-up plans at the same level or timetable as those for the Bay.
In fact, it is more likely that the state will have to delay funding for some Southern River restoration because of EPA’s implied threats associated with not meeting Bay TMDL timetables.
Second, it is difficult to include technical efficiencies in this cost calculation.
Environmental managers continue to develop and discover technical efficiencies that lower the costs associated with cleaning impaired waters. It is difficult in this analysis to include cost savings from these new technologies. In addition there are cost savings associated with voluntary agricultural BMPs implemented by the agriculture industry at no cost to the state. Finally, nutrient trading offers new opportunities to “do more with less”. None of these are included in reducing these costs estimates.
Third, federal funding is a significant determining factor.
The state’s partnership with the federal EPA and USDA has always been a critical part of Virginia’s water quality improvement effort. The current state of Federal funding to assist with the implementation of these clean-up plans is in serious doubt. Without this funding, it is very difficult to expect that the state will have the budget capacity to fund these programs. This remains perhaps the biggest unknown factor in our efforts to improve our impaired waters.
Like any study, it is important to understand the assumptions and recognize the limitations of the work as it is used to formulate management decisions. With these caveats, this report provides a discussion on SWCD funding.
The contributions, collaboration and dedication of the stakeholder group as they worked through numerous complex and controversial issues involved in this study is commendable. Their efforts and this report are an important step in our collective efforts to improve water quality. Moving forward, the Secretary of Natural Resources will continue similar stakeholder efforts to tackle the additional work identified during this study.
Pursuant to Item 360 of the 2012 Budget Bill (HB 1301) enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia, the Secretary of Natural Resources convened a stakeholder advisory group (SAG) consisting of representatives including the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs or districts), the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other agricultural and environmental interest groups. As directed by the General Assembly of Virginia, the SAG examined funding needs for administration and operation of the soil and water conservation districts and the technical assistance they provide for implementation of agricultural best management practices needed to meet Virginia’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) as well as the Southern Rivers Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits. Further, the SAG, as directed by the General Assembly, developed soil and water conservation district funding recommendations included in this report to the Governor and the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and the House Appropriations Committees.
The General Assembly directed the SAG to conduct a review of the following specific funding needs:
a. The historical distribution of funding for administration and operations of all soil and water conservation districts and a projection of future funding needs and any recommended changes to the methodology for distribution of these funds;
b. The historical distribution of funding for technical assistance for agricultural best management practices and a projection of the future funding and staffing needs necessary for districts to provide efficient and effective technical assistance to farmers;
c. Operational and technical assistance needs in relation to the amount of agricultural best management practices Cost-Share dollars allocated to the districts; and,
d. The process, timing and methodology for distribution of agricultural best management practices Cost-Share funds to be provided to farmers by the Department of Conservation and Recreation through the districts.
Additionally, the General Assembly specifically prohibited the Soil and Water Conservation Board from creating, merging, dividing, modifying or relocating the boundaries of any district pursuant to § 10.1-506, Code of Virginia, until such time as the General Assembly has received the recommendations of the stakeholder group and taken action on any such recommendations.
The SAG has completed the required review of historical soil and water conservation district funding along with development of funding needs and recommendations. Specific recommendations begin on page 14 of this report. The SAG has identified several areas of study that should be continued into the next year; these are listed on page 16. The SAG was not able to reach a full consensus on all of the recommendations detailed in this report. As such, recommendations will be indicated as majority or minority as appropriate.