Legislature(2001 - 2002)

2001-03-13 Senate Journal

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2001-03-13                     Senate Journal                      Page 0638
SB 139                                                                                            
SENATE BILL NO. 139 BY THE SENATE RULES COMMITTEE                                                   
BY REQUEST OF THE GOVERNOR, entitled:                                                               
          "An Act relating to fees for certain uses of state water                                  
          and the accounting and appropriation of those fees;                                       
          relating to authorizations for the temporary use of                                       
          state water; making other amendments to the Alaska                                        
          Water Use Act; and providing for an effective date."                                      
was read the first time and referred to the Resources and Finance                                   

2001-03-13                     Senate Journal                      Page 0639
The following fiscal information was published today:                                               
 Fiscal Note No. 1, Department of Natural Resources                                                 
Governor's transmittal letter dated March 9:                                                        
Dear President Halford:                                                                             
This bill I transmit today creates a logical source of funding for                                  
Alaska's water use program, bringing much needed efficiency to the                                  
program for commercial and residential users. The program has                                       
suffered continued underfunding for several years, causing a serious                                
backlog in permits. This inability to issue permits in a timely manner                              
stalls development and frustrates water users. This bill also clearly                               
authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow a                                     
streamlined approval process for temporary water uses as another way                                
to optimize program efficiency.                                                                     
Funding for implementation of the Alaska Water Use Act, commonly                                    
known as the water rights program, has seen a more than 50%                                         
reduction in funding over the past 10 years, leading to two- thirds                                 
reduction in staff. The remaining four staff positions can no longer                                
carry out the requirements of the Act.                                                              
This legislation is part of a three-part solution to provide adequate                               
funding and staffing for the water rights program. First, DNR is                                    
promulgating regulations that make implementation of the program                                    
less costly. Second, the FY 2002 budget includes a $300,000 budget                                  
increment to fund the program adequately. This proposed legislation                                 
provides the third part of the solution: a water use fee.                                           
Under this bill, the natural resources commissioner would establish a                               
sliding fee for water use based on the quantity intended for use. That                              
money would be separately accounted for within the general fund and                                 
available for appropriation to program operation.                                                   
The bill affirms DNR's authority to allow temporary water uses for                                  
construction, development, commercial and private activities in cases                               
where a long-term water right is not appropriate or necessary. The                                  
department has been authorizing these temporary uses for several                                    
years and many industries, such as oil development and road                                         

2001-03-13                     Senate Journal                      Page 0640
construction, find them crucial to their ability to proceed with their                              
projects in a timely manner. Losing this program option would                                       
needlessly exacerbate the current backlog in water permits.                                         
The bill confirms that the temporary water use authorizations are                                   
revocable and do not create a property right. Because of the revocable                              
nature and finite duration of these authorizations, DNR would not be                                
required to provide prior public notice or conduct an administrative                                
review under the criteria applicable to permits for water rights.                                   
However, the commissioner will continue to provide notice to the                                    
Alaska Departments of Fish and Game and Environmental                                               
Conservation and be authorized to impose reasonable conditions or                                   
limitations on these temporary uses.                                                                
Finally, a transitional provision of the bill would provide that                                    
temporary water use permits issued before the effective date of the bill                            
may not be invalidated on the grounds that DNR did not provide                                      
public notice under AS 46.15.133 or review a permit application under                               
the criteria set out in AS 46.15.080. A recent decision by the superior                             
court in Greenpeace, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Natural Resources,                              
concluded that DNR should have provided public notice of a                                          
temporary water use permit application and conducted a detailed                                     
review of the application before issuing the permit. This decision                                  
could cause serious delays in development projects and DNR's water                                  
use processing.                                                                                     
In the interest of promoting efficiency for project development across                              
the state, I urge your prompt and favorable consideration of this                                   
                                 Tony Knowles