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State water quality division requests $25 million

Posted: February 15, 2013 - 5:13pm  |  Updated: February 18, 2013 - 1:03am

The Alaska Department of Conservation’s Division of Water Quality is proud of its primacy in the area of water quality. The state agency has wrested control of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System under the title APDES — the 'A' stands for ‘Alaska.’

"We're getting good feedback from permit applicants," Michelle Bonnet Hale, director of DEC’s Division of Water, said.

Hale spoke to a House Finance Sub-Committee Thursday morning at the Capitol. The division’s permitting process is “vigorous but fair,” she said.

Hale said the public employees handling the permits are "Alaskan people" and understand the importance of clean water to fishing and tourism in the state. However, she listed development of the program as one of her division’s main challenges in 2014.

The addition of a single employee to handle growth in Alaska’s PDES system is one part of the division’s requested $25.5 million budget for fiscal year 2014.

When the division took over the managing of pollutant discharge in the state, it inherited a large backlog of permits, Hale said.

She said Water Quality’s short term goal is to clear up the entire backlog. Water Quality oversees its namesake resource in municipal sewage systems, as mine discharge and other water issues such as municipal grants and loans for matches to federal funds. They are also holding together the once-flush-with-funding Village Safe Water program, now shrinking with tighter federal budgets.

The division does not regulate drinking water or water rights.

The division’s requested budget is a half-million-dollar jump from fiscal year 2013; most of the increase is due to monitoring oil and gas development, Hale said.

Hale said her division is challenged by its aging infrastructure and the increased costs for municipalities and industries to operate existing facilities. However, it’s the Village Safe Water program that suffers most of all at the division. Funding for this program, federal funds with a state match, declined more than 60 percent in the last nine years, DEC program manager Bill Griffith said.

Funding is now $667 million below the projected need, he said.

Water Quality plans to turn to new technology, some small “Band-Aid” projects and collaboration with private industry to meet rural Alaska’s water quality needs.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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