Chairman Maxine Bell gaveled the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee hearing in promptly at 8:00am. Sara Schmidt started her presentation by giving a brief overview of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission’s (SWC) budget request for FY11. She explained how the SWC has had to cut back dramatically on workforce and locations throughout the state. SWC has delayed, put on hold or eliminated a number of programs and services such as ag pollution abatement plan update, new WQPA areas, conservation improvement grants and funding for the Idaho OnePlan.
The next part of Sara’s presentation talked about individual districts and the vital role they play in conserving Idaho’s natural resources. For example, Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District leveraged $30,000 in state and $7,000 in local funding to secure $700,000 in total FY10 funding. The Bear Lake and Franklin Soil and Water Conservation Districts had 13 individual projects to increase water savings by 40,000 acre feet. She also discussed the consolidation of Jefferson and Mud Lake, and how they were able to secure $2.5 million in funding during FY10. Before taking questions, Sara told the Committee that it’s clear there is a major return on investment for conservation efforts in Idaho.
Rep. Darrell Bolz had the first question for Sara. He asked how the SWC was going to do all this work with a limited budget and staff. Sara responded that it’s a balancing act, and they will continue to do projects that need to be done. Rep. Jim Patrick asked how do individual districts use funds? Sara stated that supervisors look for opportunities in their districts. For example, Twin Falls and Balanced Rock Conservation Districts worked together and joined forces with their cities on river and water quality concerns. Their efforts resulted in a large 319 grant to help improve streams and water quality in the area.
The last question came from Rep. Bolz had another question on the base adjustments and moving $170,000. Specifically, he asked what that money would be used for. Sara said that JFAC granted SWC some budget flexibility last year. What SWC heard last winter was to keep existing technical staff and meeting the workload. The SWC set a budget for a program manager last year, but they have had feedback on this position. Today, the position may not be a high priority. Currently, the vacancy has been placed on hold.
The SWC budget ended at about 8:30am. Director Celia Gould was up next to present the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s budget.