At first glance the budget line item for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund looks generous by this legislature’s standards: $18 million. But the legislature’s largesse was not so large. The appropriation is down 18 percent from 2016, when lawmakers appropriated $22.4 million to the trust fund. Gov. Roy Cooper included $25 million in his budget for the fund.
Either amount is minuscule compared to the fund’s $40 million appropriation in 2000, and the $100 million it was supposed to receive annually from 2004-05 through 2011-12. However, the fund never got the full amount. In fact, appropriations continued to decrease, at one point dipping as low as $6 million.
According to a coalition of conservation groups Land for Tomorrow, 135 local governments, conservation organizations, and state agencies requested nearly $68 million from the trust fund in 2017. These groups would provide almost $165 million in matching funds, more than doubling the state’s investment.
Established by lawmakers in 1996, the fund is charged with financing projects that enhance and protect water quality. These projects aren’t sexy: stormwater controls, riparian buffer restorations, stream bank stabilizations. But without them, drinking and surface waters would become more polluted, with all the attendant environmental, financial and public health costs.
Governed by a board of directors, the trust fund was under the NC Department of Environmental Quality until 2015. That’s when then-Gov. Pat McCrory exiled it and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Environmental advocates saw that shift as a way to minimize the importance of both projects.
The House is scheduled to hold its first vote on the budget today when it convenes at noon. The Senate is in recess until 4, but is expected to then vote again on the budget.