|Budget Issue:||State Water Project staffing for implementation of biological opinions|
|Program:||State Water Project|
|Finding or Recommendation:||As an update to our January 2011 recommendation: Reject six of 18 positions proposed in the Governor's January budget for improving State Water Project (SWP) compliance with wildlife-related regulations, for a savings of $795,000 (SWP funds). We find that some additional staff are needed to meet missed regulatory deadlines and for new workload associated with the regulations relating to SWP operations in the Delta and Suisun Marsh.|
Proposal. The Governor’s January budget proposed the addition of 18 positions (at a total cost of about $2.6 million in SWP funds) to improve SWP compliance with state and federal wildlife-related regulations. In January 2011, we recommended denying 14 of the 18 positions due to lack of justification. The Legislature denied the entire request without prejudice and will rehear the issue in May. Here we provide an update to that recommendation, based on additional information supplied by the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
Sacramento-San Joaquin Facilities: Approve Nine Various Positions, Reject Only Four Office Technician Positions. A total of 13 staff are proposed for the Bay-Delta Office to implement new requirements under the National Marine Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion for the SWP. This total includes three engineers, four environmental scientists, two fish and wildlife technicians, and four office technicians. Our prior recommendation was to approve the three engineers. As discussed below, the department has provided us with additional information that justifies the four environmental scientists and two fish and wildlife technicians. We now recommend approval of nine positions, but continue to recommend rejection of the four office technicians.
Our initial recommendation to reject the environmental scientists and fish and wildlife technicians was based largely on the department’s completion of fish Capture, Handling, Transport, and Release (CHTR) studies and its subsequent transition to implementing the recommendations of those studies. Furthermore, we reasoned that because DWR had been complying with the biological opinions (BOs) and incidental take permits (ITPs) governing SWP operations, existing staff were sufficient to perform the substantial data collection, monitoring, and analysis workload required by the BOs and ITPs. The department has clarified that it has in fact not been able to meet several deadlines set in the BOs. Missed deadlines include requirements to develop a plan to reduce predator impacts on protected species, to study appropriate release sites for salvaged fish, and to evaluate the effectiveness of North Bay Aqueduct fish screens. In our initial analysis we also questioned the need for permanent staff when many of these activities will be completed over the next several years. The department agreed that the workload is of a limited duration, but it has identified a significant number of future projects that these positions will work on after the completion of the workload listed in the Governor’s proposal.
We now find that the three engineers, four environmental scientists, and two fish and wildlife technicians are justified given the current inability of the department to meet several important deadlines and by the identification of additional workload for the requested positions following the completion of their work. The proposal also requested four new office technician positions to deal with increased workload. In this case, we repeat our initial recommendation to deny these positions because this workload can be addressed adequately at current administrative staffing levels, saving $484,000 in SWP funds annually.
Suisun Marsh Facilities: Approve Two Requested Environmental Scientist Positions. Our initial recommendation was to reject both environmental scientist positions for activities related to: (1) permitting and monitoring associated with the anticipated release by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) of a basin plan for the Delta and the Suisun Marsh and (2) on-site evaluations of fish presence and behavior to meet the needs of the SWP Operations Criteria and Plan biological opinion. Information that we had received prior to making the recommendation had not demonstrated a need for additional staff. However, the department has since listed several required activities in the Suisun Marsh that it has been unable to complete on time due to lack of staff. These missed deadlines and annual reports related to existing SWRCB requirements, the current version of the Suisun Marsh Preservation Agreement, and several Bay Conservation and Development Commission permits. Given that the department has been unable to meet these requirements and anticipates having to comply with forthcoming new regulations, we find that these two positions are justified and recommend approval.
Regulatory Compliance for Division of Environmental Services: Approve One of Three Requested Staff Environmental Scientists. The Governor's budget proposes the addition of three positions for coordinating regulatory compliance. We continue to find that only one position has been justified, and therefore recommend the rejection of two positions, for a savings of $311,000 (this portion of our analysis is unchanged from our January 2011 recommendation). The budget proposes two staff environmental scientists to perform modeling and participate in inter-agency regulatory processes, and an additional environmental scientist to run models and analyze data. Two of the division’s more experienced personnel were performing some of these duties, but have since departed. Although these vacancies will be filled, we find that it is warranted to add only one additional staff environmental scientist to make up for the lost capacity and knowledge. However, existing staff currently with the department have represented DWR in the inter-agency processes, and other offices within DWR possess the capacity to perform the modeling duties of these positions, so we find that the need for two additional positions (on top of the one we recommend be approved) has not been justified.
As final note, the Legislature expressed some concern over whether the positions in this request would be used to undermine rather than implement the biological opinions and the incidental take permits. In fact, according to the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), DWR personnel are generally helpful in the process of determining the appropriate actions to include in incidental take permits and can provide data that DFG, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service use in their biological opinions and take permits.