A state trust fund for protecting and cleaning up waterways has found itself with a slashed budget, merged with another fund, put under new management, and transferred to a new department. Now it’s undergone one more shuffle.
The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was one of a slew of state programs and commissions that lawmakers reorganized at the beginning of the year. It used to be an independent agency, now it reports to the natural resources department. It used to have 21 trustees in charge, now it has nine. It used to dole out grants to protect and clean up North Carolina waters—and still does—but, now, it provides them for historic lands, as well. It also has a new slate of appointees and a new director.
Other than that, “pretty much everything is the same, except the administrative part,” says deputy director Beth McGee, a 15-year veteran of the fund.
McGee is upbeat about the most recent change: This month, the fund has been lumped into a new division—inside its new department—along with programs like the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership.
“The department is looking to pair like functions and to have more of a connection between some of the programs that haven’t been connected before,” McGee says.
Reid Wilson, executive director of Conservation Trust North Carolina says he is not concerned with the new structure, but is worried about the fund’s budget. A few years ago, the fund received $100 million per year, which it used for things like protecting Mountain Island Lake in Gastonia, and cleaning textile dye out of the Catawba River. But a series of cuts from both the Perdue administration and Republican lawmakers has seen that amount dwindle, to about $10.5 million this year.
“The amount of funding matters for these conservation trust funds,” says Wilson. “These trust funds have been incredibly successful, and I think the legislature will see that there’s more than enough demand for additional funding to continue this strong record that the state has had.”
Wilson does point out that lawmakers gave the fund a new, dedicated source of revenue from the sale of specialty license plates, and no longer requires it to pay for previous debts—meaning more of the funding can be used on grants.