DLNR Renews Calls for Watershed Protection in 2013 Legislative Session

Honolulu Civil Beat - January 14, 2013
Sophie Cocke

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources is mounting a renewed push for long-term funding for the protection of the state’s critical watershed areas.
At stake is the islands’ fresh water supply. Hawaii's streams and estuaries are being threatened by hotter and drier conditions due to climate change, and watershed forests are being ravaged by invasive species, state and county officials told the Senate Energy and Environment Committee at a Friday briefing.

Last year, efforts to gain dedicated funding from the Legislature failed. The department had hoped to secure about $11 million from a fee on disposable bags, but the bill didn’t pass. Gov. Neil Abercrombie provided $5 million out of the state’s budget, but it was a one-time allocation.

The department is again hoping to secure $11 million a year for at least the next 10 years this session, which begins Wednesday. Much of the money could either come from a new bag bill or an increase in the conveyance tax, Randy Kennedy, DLNR’s native ecosystem section manger told lawmakers.

“We are going to be working hard with our watershed partners and public supporters to convince the Legislature this year that we are worthy of that,” he said.
Watershed protection has had the strong support of Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

He told Civil Beat that he is proposing two single-use bag bills this session, one of which pays for watershed protection.

Under both bills, customers would be charged 10 cents for each single-use bag that is not already banned at the county level. Maui, Kauai and the Big Island already have bans on plastic bags. On Oahu, the county council passed a ban on plastic bags last year after the state Legislature failed to act. The ban doesn’t take effect until 2015.

Gabbard’s bills would apply to both paper and plastic and take effect January 2014. Most of the revenue from one of the bills would go to watershed protection. Retailers would keep 10 percent of the fees for the first year to support implementation costs and the Hawaii Department of Health would be paid $1.2 million for administering the program. The health department would receive 20 percent of the remaining balance for its environmental response revolving fund. The remaining 80 percent would go to DLNR's watershed program.

Funding from the other single-use bag bill being proposed by Gabbard would go to support county litter control and prevention programs. Half of the revenues from the fees would go to the county general fund.

Protecting Hawaii’s watersheds has been a major DLNR initiative under the Abercrombie administration. More than half of the state’s forests have been lost, in large part due to invasive species, according to the department.

Plants, such as the Brazilian Christmas berry, have choked out native species. And animals, such as pigs, cattle and goats trample vegetation.
In addition to reducing the state’s water supply, limited vegetation leads to erosion and runoff that devastate coral reefs, and shortages of fresh water flowing into the ocean harm areas where fish spawn, according to DLNR.

Currently, only 10 percent of the state’s most important watershed areas are protected, something that has taken 40 years to accomplish, according to the department. DLNR hopes to double that in the next 10 years with the $11 million in annual funding.