Witnesses tell an Assembly committee that looming federal cuts would leave state programs adrift
An array of state programs to protect and restore rivers and wetlands is endangered by current plans to cut funding on Capitol Hill. That’s what a string of witnesses told the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee in Sacramento this week.
At risk are programs that have leveraged federal money to restore hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat in California, according to speakers for environmental and outdoor groups.
For a nearby example of how federal funds have been used, waterfowl advocate Bill Gaines pointed to the Yolo Bypass, almost within sight of the state Capitol. Gaines, president of the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, said that over ten years, $5 million in federal money has fueled restoration of 4,300 acres of wildlife habitat.
Kim Delfino, who spoke for the activist group Defenders of Wildlife, told lawmakers that provisions in the federal budget bill known as HR-1 would gut funding for the state’s Land & Water Conservation Fund by 90%. Allocations have already dropped off precipitously in recent years to the program that funds improvements to local parks and beach access, among other things.
Also in jeopardy, according to testimony, are hard-won agreements to restore the San Joaquin and Klamath Rivers basins. The latter deal, which took 18 years to craft, requires the removal of four hydro-electric dams.
Gaines says wildlife refuge areas on the upper Klamath currently line up behind local farms for water allocations. “Without that money to remove those dams, the entire Klamath basin restoration agreement falls part and along with it, the water rights that the refuge complex up there so desperately needs,” said Gaines, whose organization represents a coalition of hunting, fishing and wildlife groups.
Zeke Grader, who represents commercial fishing interests, called the measure a “declaration of war” against the salmon fisheries and communities that rely on them.
Barry Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel testified that passage of HR-1 would “threaten the progress” that California is beginning to make on a host of water issues. Nelson said riders attached to the spending bill would deal a severe setback to current efforts to restore the San Joaquin River, and to secure the future health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.