Clean Water Indiana, the soil conservation program backed by the State of Indiana, made legislative headlines recently. More importantly, those observing what goes on at the statehouse are keeping a close eye on Clean Water Indiana money in the budget for the next biennium.
Coming off a year with the worst flooding and soil erosion in Indiana history, it would seem like supporting a program aimed at reducing soil erosion and protecting waterways would be a no-brainer. After all, sediment from soil erosion is the number one pollutant in Indiana's lakes, rivers and streams, far ahead of anything else. But Indiana's economic downturn has made budgeting money for any cause anything but a no-brainer.
First, however, a bill passed in the house, HB1204, sailed through the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a unanimous vote just last week. This bill was felt necessary to remove any doubt about what should happen with Clean Water Indiana monies at the end of the fiscal year. Some bureaucrats contended that money left in the account should revert back to the fund it was appropriated from if still unused at the end of the year. That's a problem in a program where part of the money is spent on projects that are at the mercy of the weather. They can't always be completed in a short time frame, or in this case, before the end of a fiscal year.
The bill makes it absolutely clear that these monies do not revert back to the cigarette tax fund. That's still where a primary chunk of funding for Clean Water Indiana comes from today. Bob Kraft of Indiana Farm Bureau spoke for the bill on behalf of both Farm Bureau and the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
On the same day, Kraft, other staff members of Farm Bureau and members of IASWCD's legislative committee met informally with about 20 legislators. The intended purpose was to thank them for their support of HB1204, thus protecting the integrity of the Clean Water Indiana fund.
During the meeting, however, they urged them to keep the $500 per year extra appropriation for Clean Water Indiana in the state budget for the next two years. That money was added two years ago. At that time, the original goal was $5 million over the two-year period. This time, backers are hoping they can keep the half-million per year intact.
Neighboring state4s have programs of state support for soil conservation that dwarf what happens in Indiana. However, backers of soil conservation seem content to let the program grow as it can, recognizing the tight budget constraints this year. Efforts to set up a dedicated fund that would raise more money instead of coming from the general fund have fallen short. One idea that hasn't proven popular with legislators is a deposit fee on bottled water that would go to the Clean Water Indiana Fund.
Watch for updates on how Clean Water Indiana fares on funding in upcoming days.