Legislature(1993 - 1994)
03/26/1993 08:00 AM House RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
MR. NIEMEYER explained that the mission of the Water Resources Board was to ensure that there was wise water management in the state. He noted that for the past year the board had not been funded and members had served at their own expense. He referred to legislation pertinent to the Water Resources Board, including HB 111 and SB 80. House Bill 111, he said, proposes to repeal the board. This proposal, he believed, makes little sense because the board operates at little expense to the state. MR. NIEMEYER explained that SB 80 combines the Water Resources Board with the Soil and Water Conservation Board. In effect, he said, the bill would turn the functions of the Water Resources Board over to the Soil and Water Conservation Board. He cautioned that water management issues would be compromised by the creation of a joint board. Number 115 MR. NIEMEYER explained the history of the board, which had operated for over 20 years. He said the board serves as an advocate for the state's position on water management, and is involved in controversial water issues. Most recently, he said the board was involved in the development of the Kenai Groundwater Task Force, and has been an advocate for village safe water programs. Number 160 MR. NIEMEYER related some of the other activities of the Water Resources Board, which include working closely together with user groups to work out problems and creating programs that will generate revenues. He noted the work of the Water Division in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in developing a water export program. Although the idea has not been widely accepted, he said the DNR is looking seriously at water export as a source of revenue generation for the state. Number 240 MR. NIEMEYER described some of the other principal functions and programs performed by the Water Resources Board or for which the board serves in an advisory capacity. Among them were hydrologic surveys, maintenance of stream gauging records and water studies required for construction of bridges or roads. He said 11 hydrologists in the DNR perform those functions and that continuity in their data- gathering is very important, but is at risk in the face of budget cuts. The Water Resource Board, he said, is an active proponent of keeping the hydrologists in the department to maintain those programs. Number 310 REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES asked Mr. Niemeyer when the Water Resources Board was authorized. MR. NIEMEYER replied that the board was authorized in statute by AS 46, at about the time of the Water Use Act in the 1960's. Number 315 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES asked how members are selected and appointed. Number 320 MR. NIEMEYER replied that persons interested in serving on the board contact the governor's office, and those who are appointed serve four-year terms. He said the board has benefitted from continuity in its membership over the years, except for the higher than usual turnover in the past five years. Number 339 REPRESENTATIVE CON BUNDE referred to the Water Resources Board's fact sheet, dated September, 1992, produced by the DNR's Division of Water. He asked Mr. Niemeyer to describe the board's legislative priorities. MR. NIEMEYER explained that the board's highest priority was to obtain funding for the Water Division. He said the board had worked for 20 years to have that division created, and that with budget cuts, the programs provided by that division are in jeopardy of being lost. Number 366 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE commented on the export of Alaska's water resources, and noted that the environmental impact of such an action would be very complex. He noted that the cost of such big projects may not be a wise investment in light of budget cuts that might eliminate state hydrologists who provide important field services to the citizens of Alaska. Number 390 WAYNE WESTBERG, WATER RESOURCES BOARD MEMBER, explained that the investigation of water export possibilities has not been a major expense to the state, in that only one person is employed on that project in the Division of Water. He said the water export project does not impact the delivery of other water-related services. The board initiated DNR's water rights program, he said. Although it had been in statutes, Mr. Westberg told the committee that it had not been implemented until the board pushed for action. If the DNR loses its hydrologists, he said the water rights program would be drastically affected. MR. WESTBERG predicted that a backlog of water rights applications would result if the hydrologists' budget were cut too far. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE commented that the hydrologists in the field should be the highest priority. Number 422 MR. NIEMEYER distributed a position paper prepared by the Division of Water on water exports, dated March 17, 1993. He also distributed an attachment, also prepared by the Division of Water, relating to the FY 94 budget. Number 438 CHAIRMAN WILLIAMS noted for the record that Representatives Davies, Finkelstein and Bunde had joined the meeting since the call to order. He referred to the next item on the agenda, HB 213, which he explained, had been previously heard by the Resources Committee on March 22, 1993. He noted that the amendments suggested at that meeting had led to a blank committee substitute draft, as well as two additional amendments, A.8 and A.9.