Smart People Making Dumb Decisions: Virginia Plans to Cut Funding and Withdraw from ICPRB
Under Virginia Governor McDonnell’s proposed 2012-2013 budget, funding would be stripped for the state’s annual membership dues to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB). Additionally, legislation introduced to the Virginia House of Delegates, H.B. 1034, seeks to withdraw the Commonwealth as a member from the interstate compact. The purported motivation behind this short sighted move is budget austerity and the elimination of wasteful programs. However, as Robert Hartwell, one of Virginia’s 3 appointed commissioners, demonstrably showed in a recent letter to the Administration, eliminating funding and withdrawing from ICPRB would not only be detrimental to the State’s interest in the management and protection of the essential resource that is the Potomac River, such a move would actually cost the State more than it would save.
In Virginia’s $85 billion two-year budget, $151,000 in annual dues to ICPRB is hardly large enough to show up as a line item at 0.00000355% of the budget. By contrast, nearly 3 million Virginia residents live in the Potomac watershed. At over one-third of the State’s population, Potomac watershed citizens comprise something more sizable than a “local” matter, as Doug Domenech, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director, said when belittling the role of ICPRB.
As for fiscal savings, it would actually cost Virginia more money to withdraw from ICPRB than would be saved by doing so. Virginia receives approximately $529,000 in annual benefits through grants and cost share programs from ICPRB. Compare that to the $151,000 in annual membership dues and the budgetary decision to remain a member to the pact seems obvious. Those numbers don’t include intangible benefits that ICPRB provides the State such as scientific expertise to academic institutions and improved quality of life for watershed residents.
Several droughts and ever-increasing pollution in the drinking water source for the Nation’s Capital and surrounding area made apparent the clear need to have an interstate agency coordinate drinking water policy between the states. Important enough to be established by an Act of Congress in 1940, members to the Commission include all of the states in the Potomac watershed (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania) and the District of Columbia. Since its founding, ICPRB has provided non-biased research and technical assistance to its member states, and facilitated cooperation between the states, particularly Virginia and Maryland, in managing drinking water withdrawals during drought conditions.
Perhaps during this time of fiscal drought, Virginia policy makers would be wise to recall times of rainfall drought. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another Act of Congress to point to the vital role ICPRB plays in protecting the Potomac River.
Read our joint letter with Potomac Conservancy to Gov. McDonnell opposing Virginia's defunding of the ICPRB.