Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2000-01 Budget Bill
State Water Resources Control Board (3940)

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), in conjunction with nine semiautonomous regional boards, regulates water quality in the state. The regional boardswhich are funded by the state board and are under the state board's oversightimplement water quality programs in accordance with policies, plans, and standards developed by the state board.

The board carries out its water quality responsibilities by (1) establishing wastewater discharge policies and standards; (2) implementing programs to ensure that the waters of the state are not contaminated by underground or aboveground tanks; and (3) administering state and federal loans and grants to local governments for the construction of wastewater treatment, water reclamation, and storm drainage facilities. Waste discharge permits are issued and enforced mainly by the regional boards, although the state board issues some permits and initiates enforcement action when deemed necessary.

The state board also administers water rights in the state. It does this by issuing and reviewing permits and licenses to applicants who wish to take water from the state's streams, rivers, and lakes.

The budget proposes expenditures of $542.6 million from various funds for support of SWRCB in 2000-01. This amount is an increase of $25.3 million, or about 5 percent, over estimated current-year expenditures. Major budget proposals include (1) an increase of $6.8 million for ambient water quality monitoring, (2) $7.1 million to continue a one-time increase in the current year to reduce backlogs in permit updates and increase inspections, and (3) an increase of $3 million to develop and implement plans to address water pollution in the most seriously impaired water bodies in the state. The budget also proposes a one-time increase of $53 million in the board's baseline expenditure authority to reimburse tank owners for their costs of cleaning up leaking underground storage tanks. However, there was also a one-time increase for these payments in the current year. Recognizing this, the budget reflects only a net increase of about $20 million in these expenditures over the current year.

Legislatively Required Report on Water Quality Monitoring Needed to Evaluate Budget Proposal

The State Water Resources Control Board has failed to submit a legislatively required report that would enable the Legislature to fully evaluate the proposed increase of $6.8 million and 15 positions for ambient water quality monitoring. We therefore recommend disapproval of this proposal because in the absence of the information to be provided by the report, the Legislature is unable to determine the appropriate level of funding. (Reduce 3940-001-0001 by $6.8 million.)

Ambient Water Quality Monitoring. Ambient water quality involves monitoring the quality of a water body as a whole, as opposed to monitoring waste discharges into water bodies at a particular location. This type of monitoring is important as it is the foundation for much of the board's work. For example, comprehensive and up-to-date ambient monitoring is fundamental to the board's planning, standard-setting, and permitting activities. Without such monitoring, the board cannot adequately evaluate whether existing water quality standards and programs are adequately protecting all of the beneficial uses of a water body.

Legislature Expressed Concern About Monitoring. At budget hearings this past year, the Legislature expressed concern about the level of ambient water quality monitoring being conducted by the board. While ambient water quality monitoring was funded at a level of $12 million in the 1980s (relying largely on bond funds that are now depleted), the funding level proposed in the 1999-00 Governor's Budget had been reduced to about $1.8 million. Furthermore, almost all of this $1.8 million was for surface water quality monitoring. The lack of ambient water quality monitoring of groundwater was of legislative concern, particularly in light of evidence of MTBE-contaminated fuel leaking into groundwater supplies.

In order to enhance the board's ambient water quality monitoring activities, the Legislature approved an increase of $4 million in the board's budget for 1999-00, of which $2 million was for surface water quality monitoring and $2 million was to begin monitoring groundwater basins on a rotating basis. The Governor later reduced this increase to $1 million, split evenly between surface water and groundwater monitoring.

Legislature Required Board to Prepare Plan for Comprehensive Monitoring Program. The increase for monitoring approved by the Legislature was not intended to address fully the board's monitoring needs, since further evaluation was required to assess these needs. In order to provide the Legislature with the information necessary to evaluate an appropriate funding level for the board's monitoring activities, the Legislature directed the board to submit a report by January 10, 2000 that
(1) detailed the type, location, and results from ambient monitoring conducted over the past three years and (2) included a plan for implementing a comprehensive program for monitoring both ambient surface water quality and groundwater quality. In addition, the report was to discuss how the Governor's 2000-01 budget proposal fits within this plan.

Budget Proposes Substantial Increase for Monitoring. The budget proposes an increase of $6.8 million from the General Fund, and 15 positions, for SWRCB to conduct ambient water quality monitoring. This represents a substantial increase over estimated current-year expenditures ($2.8 million) for ambient water quality monitoring, and would result in total annual expenditures for this activity of about $9.6 million.

Legislatively Required Report Not Submitted; Recommend Proposal Be Denied. The board has yet to submit the legislatively required report on monitoring due on January 10. The Legislature requested this report specifically to be able to evaluate the Governor's 2000-01 budget proposal in this activity area. While we think that there is a need for some level of additional funding for water quality monitoring, without the report the Legislature is unable to assess the extent to which the Governor's proposal moves the board toward implementing a comprehensive ambient water quality monitoring programa fundamental objective of the Legislature in requesting the report.

Absent the report, we recommend that the requested $6.8 million and 15 positions be denied.

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