Saturday, 25 May 2024

State's freezing of bonds impacts local watershed projects

LAKE COUNTY – The state's actions to freeze bond funding is hitting projects around the state, including work right here in Lake County.

In December the California Department of Finance froze use of the Pooled Money Investment Account (PMIA) for general obligation bond-funded programs and projects, according to a report from the California Watershed Coalition.

The coalition estimates that the state's action has halted $660 million a month in loan servicing for bond-funded infrastructure projects, and resulted in lack of reimbursement for some projects and thousands of layoffs.

The particular bonds whose funds have been frozen include 13, 40, 50 and 84, said Greg Dills, watershed coordinator for the East Lake and West Lake Resource Conservation Districts.

There's also the matter of grants running out, specifically those that support the county's watershed groups and activities, said Dills.

He said he's not seen bond funds actually frozen before.

“California's credit rating is the worst in the nation,” he said, adding that nobody is buying bonds.

“Locally it's just devastating,” he said.

Two Proposition 50 grants the county has support three watershed assessments and the Clear Lake Basin Management Plan. Dills said his staff is in the 11th hour on the basin management plan, which they had planned to finish in June.

He said no one has been able to tell him if they'll be able to get an extension for completing the assessments and the plan, which he called “key documents for being able to get other funds to implement projects.”

Dills also recently received official notice from the state Department of Water Resources to stop work on an assessment grant.

Projects and funding build on one another, Dills said.

The Westlake District is very small, with only three staff members as it is, said Dills. Lack of funding going forward could impact the additional three to four staffers that do seasonal work for the district.

Pam Francis, deputy director of Lake County's Water Resources Division, said they're also feeling the impact of the state's actions.

She said the division has been working on Proposition 50 and 84 grants; those and another grant account for $56,000 in funding that the county may have to cover so far this year, an estimate which Francis said is “very conservative.”

Some of the money they've been awarded may not be able to be used by the sunset dates because of the state's actions, which means the county will lose those funds, said Francis.

The grant funding Water Resources receives goes to such projects as eradicating the invasive plant Arundo donax – the giant reed that resembles bamboo that is commonly seen around the county. The county received about $181,000 three years ago for that work. Francis said that grant is now coming to a close.

There also are Proposition 50 assessments, which are snapshots of what the county's three main watersheds look like, said Francis. “It's really just to collect everything we know about these three watersheds at this point in time.”

That work is meant to help in understanding the health of watersheds. Francis said a very important component in those assessments is completing the Clear Lake Basin Management Plan, because the lake can't be separated from the watersheds.

One department staffer works full-time on that grant, and Francis said they've managed to keep her working by covering her salary from the division's funds and not from a grant. The county may or may not be reimbursed for that.

Francis said Brent Siemer, head of the county's Department of Public Works – which includes Water Resources – made the decision that the assessment and the plan were important enough that work on them needed to continue.

The county also is applying for Proposition 84 funds to support an integrated regional water management plan which extends beyond the county's political boundaries, said Francis. It would cover Upper and Lower Cache Creek and Putah Creek, and is a cooperative effort with Yolo, Solano, Napa and Colusa counties.

The regional water management plan also is a project listed in a memorandum of understanding the county reached late last year with Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, said Francis.

“This is a big deal,” she said.

Receiving additional Proposition 84 funds are hinged on the plan being completed for the area and giving the state an idea of how the funds will be spent, said Francis.

Also hung up now are flood corridor grants covering the Middle Creek area. Francis said the county needs the grants to purchase properties from two separate owners who are in flood prone areas.

“The citizens of the state need to become a little more irate and give their legislators a piece of their mind,” said Francis, expressing her frustration over the state's budget crisis.

She added, “There are people losing their jobs out there just because these legislators are trying to posture.”

Francis said the county may have to make cuts in the future if the funds aren't restored.

“There's going to be a lot of financial pressure put on at some point in time,” she said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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