President’s FY 2017 Budget in Detail: Conservation, Water, Hazard Mitigation, and Federal Data

A number of federal programs support planners as they work to build stronger, healthier communities. In his FY17 budget request released last week, President Obama outlined his priorities for conservation, water, hazard mitigation, and federal data.

While this budget is a political document and therefore unlikely to be seriously considered by the Republican-led Congress, it highlights the administration’s priorities during Obama’s final year in the White House.

Conservation and Environmental Protection

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is an integral to U.S. conservation and recreation efforts and helps planners increase outdoor recreational opportunities in local communities. In his FY17 budget, President Obama called for permanent reauthorization and full funding at $900 million for LWCF. He splits that $900 million into mandatory and discretionary funding. While the full funding request demonstrates the administration’s commitment to conservation and recreation efforts, the discretionary funding portion for LWCF at $475 million is more likely to receive attention from the Republican-led Congress as the budget and appropriations process progresses.

Within the $475 million in discretionary funding for LWCF, $110 million would go to state assistance grants, which provide funding for state and local parks. Furthermore, $12 million of that $110 million — referred to as the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program (ORLPP) — would be directed through competitive grants to urban areas, which often lack outdoor space and recreational facilities. These funding levels match those included in the FY16 omnibus spending bill and represent a major increase for both state assistance and urban park funding when compared to the last decade. While these levels are not sufficient to address all state and local park and recreational needs across the country, they are an important step toward further increasing the resources available to planners working on local park and recreation projects

In addition to the $12 million for ORLPP, the President’s budget calls for $30 million in funding for the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Fund. This fund is also meant to direct money to cities for urban parks and recreation. While the President’s support for this program is encouraging, Congress has not funded UPARR since 2002, and it is unlikely they will do so again in FY17.

Alongside support for outdoor conservation, the President’s budget also recognizes the need to help communities clean up contaminated land and make it available for redevelopment. Brownfields, or sites like former gas stations or dry cleaning facilities where possible ground contamination inhibits redevelopment of the land, often blight communities and limit potential growth. In FY17, Obama proposes $90 million in funding for brownfield cleanup projects, including $5 million for Brownfield Area-Wide Planning Grants. Helping planners and developers cleanup contaminated land for redevelopment can prove critical in catalyzing economic growth and revitalizing a community.

Finally, in FY17, the Historic Preservation Fund would receive a $22 million increase to $87 million under the President’s budget, and the National Park Service would also see a small increase from FY16 in Obama’s proposal.

Conserving green space, expanding recreational opportunities, and cleaning up contaminated land all contribute to healthier, more vibrant communities, and the President’s FY17 budget reflects a strong commitment to these types of beneficial programs.

Water Infrastructure, Management, and Quality

The recent lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s, drinking water supply has brought the issue of water infrastructure and management to the national stage. In FY17, the Obama administration has chosen to place an emphasis on what they are referring to as water innovation. With the aim of improving water supply, quality, and management, the administration requests a new investment of $267 million into desalination research, more timely and accurate water usage research, and new techniques that will make flood and drought prediction more accurate.

Obama does make noteworthy changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF). The CWSRF provides loans to help communities improve water infrastructure, while DWSRF loans help communities improve drinking water quality. The President’s budget cuts funding for CWSRF by about 30 percent from the FY16 enacted level, while modestly increasing funding for DWSRF by around 18 percent.

In addition, the administration provides no funding for the Watershed Rehabilitation program in FY17. This program, which provides funding for rehabilitating aging dams, was funded in the FY16 omnibus at $12 million, but the administration notes that it believes such work should be the responsibility of local project sponsors, not the federal government. The elimination of this program, along with the cut to the CWSRF, represents a surprising and somewhat discouraging cut to water infrastructure funding at a time when improved infrastructure has become a topic for national debate.

Hazard Mitigation

Implementing strategies to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and catastrophic events is crucial in building safer, more resilient communities. Flooding, droughts, and extreme weather continue to affect communities across America, and it is important these communities have the resources necessary to cope with and mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sees a substantial increase in top-line funding in the President’s budget, the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund is slashed nearly in half. Now more than ever, communities need to act to make themselves less vulnerable to natural disasters, so the administration’s cut in pre-disaster mitigation funding raises serious concerns for the future well-being of vulnerable communities.

The budget does, however, increase flood plain management and mapping programs by $12 million dollars, which would help planners better understand how flooding can affect their communities. The administration also calls for $20 million under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand the competitive Regional Coastal Resilience Grant Program. This program supports regional approaches to building coastal resilience plans and minimizing the negative impacts of extreme weather.

Finally, Obama’s proposal continues to fund emergency wildfire suppression on agricultural and federal land through the Departments of Agriculture and Interior.

Making communities stronger and safer in the face of increasingly severe natural disasters is crucial, and both the administration and Congress must help communities find ways to mitigate risks posed by floods, droughts, storms, fires, and other hazards.

Federal Data

Accurate, timely data is critical to helping planners make effective decisions, and the federal government is one of the primary sources of such data.

The President’s budget highlights the importance maintaining and expanding federal data collection and dissemination at the Census Bureau. For FY17, he requests $778 million, a $182 million dollar increase, to help the Census Bureau prepare for the 2020 Census. It also includes $251 million for the American Communities Survey (ACS), a $7.6 million dollar increase. ACS updates certain demographic, environmental, economic, and social data on an annual basis to ensure planners and others have access to accurate, up-to-date, community-specific data.

Overall, President Obama’s budget illustrates his administration’s broad support for programs that promote conservation, water innovation, hazard mitigation, and federal data collection and distribution. However, cuts to water infrastructure and pre-disaster mitigation funding do raise some concerns for planners. Actual funding levels for FY17 won’t be determined until Congress completes its appropriations process, but the President’s budget release sets that process in motion.

Without adequate funding, federal programs will be unable help planners make informed decisions and implement new strategies that make America’s communities healthy and resilient.

About the Author

Kirsten Holland is a Policy Associate for Advocacy Associates.

Image: The budget includes a combined $2.0 billion for EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Water pipe photo in the public domain.

March 20, 2016

By Kirsten Holland