CQ Roll Call recently issued the second edition of its 50 State Project covering the issues that dominate state legislative agendas across the country. The report contains a comprehensive listing and analysis of the issues that got the most attention in state legislatures in 2015, based on extensive interviews with local reporters about their coverage of state legislative sessions earlier this year. We at CWC were not surprised (given the federal government’s inattention in this area) to see that 13 states identified water topics at the top of their list of issues most important to voters. Here is just a sampling of those states. We’ll cover more states and their pressing water issues in upcoming posts.
California – Water was the number one issue on the minds of California state lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session. The state’s extended drought has driven debate and in some cases action on both water supply and water management. According to the Roll Call report, California now has a first-ever plan to regulate groundwater. As we have reported, in 2014 voters did approve a $7.5 million injection of taxpayer funds (known as Proposition 1) to address the state’s aging water infrastructure, but voters know that far more funding is needed to provide the infrastructure necessary for coping with drought conditions.
Florida – Florida’s ecosystem makes the state especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and consequently puts it at high risk for storm and flood related damages, all of which are heightened by aging and failing water infrastructure. The legislature did authorize spending on water infrastructure in 2014, drawing from a fund designated for land and water conservation, but voters and legislators still feel strongly enough that further water infrastructure investments are needed to include water in the top five of the state’s most pressing issues in 2015.
Maryland – The Maryland General Assembly also devoted a great deal of time on water issues in 2015, repealing and revising the state’s stormwater management fee, known as the “rain tax,” earlier this year. But the top-five ranking that water issues garnered among legislative priorities is also due to the state’s longstanding struggles with inadequate funding for critically needed water system improvements. Cities like Baltimore, for example, have experienced a severely diminished taxpayer base due to urban flight, leaving an enormous gap in the funds available and those needed for upgrades and repairs. So the city, like so many others we have written about, has been forced to raise rates, resulting in an increase in a typical quarterly combined water and sewage bill from $62 in 2000 to $201 today.
Ohio – Ohio ranked water issues number four in its list of legislative issues capturing the most attention in 2015, due in part to the contamination of Lake Erie that we discussed in our August 6, 2014 post. As we wrote, in early August 2014, more than 400,000 residents of the Toledo metropolitan area were deprived of safe drinking water as a result of toxins contaminating the area’s water supply from Lake Erie. A two-day ban on the use of drinking water was imposed when city officials identified toxins in the water supply stemming from runoff of fertilized fields and lawns, from malfunctioning septic systems and from livestock pens. Leaky septic tanks and storm water drains were a significant contributing factor in release of the toxins. Since that time, lawmakers have passed legislation to limit the spreading of manure on frozen and wet ground in northwest Ohio and curtail dumping of dredged material in the lake. But more work needs to be done, and further investments necessary, which accounts for the priority that legislators assigned water issues in the Roll Call report.
We will cover other states’ water issues, including the others discussed in the 50 State Project, in future posts.