Winter 2014 Legislative update

By Deb Swackhamer

We are hopeful that we will have certainty in our Federal budget sometime in January. We have been living with continuing resolutions and automatic sequestration cuts for two years, so this is very welcome if still not ideal. The budget committee chairs of the US House and Senate have agreed to a plan, the Bipartisan Budget Act and the House and Senate have passed it. Hopefully, Congress will complete the process of passing a spending bill in early January, one that would consist of an omnibus bill that includes all twelve spending bills for all aspects of the Federal budget. The spending bills crafted in both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that fund the USGS budget include funds for the WRRI program, so we are optimistic.

Should we have a federal FY14 budget next month, we are hopeful that we can re-engage the Congress on a formal reauthorization of the WRRI program.

On the state level, this past month we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that created the Clean Water Fund. We are pleased to report that many recommendations of the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework have been implemented, due to collective actions on the part of the Legislature, the Executive Branch, and others. Progress has been made on all ten “Big” issues, although some more than others. We eagerly anticipate the Clean Water Fund Performance Report 2013 (an assessment of key indicators of how we are doing, due out this January) and the Clean Water Fund Roadmap (a high level look forward of where we want to be, anticipated in April 2014).

The WRC designed and sponsored a full-day short course on “water 101” – a series of lectures on water issues and challenges in Minnesota, federal and state water policy, and water policy analysis. The goal of this short course was to develop expertise and leadership in water resource issues in state decision-makers, and was done with support from the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Washington, D.C. The short course was held at the University of Minnesota in September and open to all Minnesota State Legislators and their staff. A condensed version was presented to the Legislator-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) in December.