It has been a rocky couple of months for the two commissions that oversee the Potomac River basin.
Earlier this year, Virginia officials indicated they might not fund the Potomac River Fisheries Commission and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin because of tough fiscal circumstances.
Both commissions formed decades ago so the states could work together to manage the river. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission has just two members - Maryland and Virginia. With a staff of five in Colonial Beach, VA, it regulates fishing in the mainstem. The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin has a staff of 21, a budget of nearly $3 million, and membership from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It is based in Rockville, MD, and focuses on research, water allocation, preventing droughts and restoring fishing populations.
As the Bay Journal went to press, Virginia officials were still negotiating over both issues. The House and Senate budgets will be reconciled by March 10, at which point the commissions will know if they will be funded.
"We have been told to sit tight," said Potomac River Fisheries Commission Executive Secretary A.C. Carpenter. The commission expected to receive about $145,000 from both Maryland and Virginia. That makes up the bulk of their budget; the rest comes from licensing fees.
Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech, said his state has "every intention of staying in" the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.
Jack Frye, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said he was told that the cut was a "mistake," and officials were working to restore it in the budget reconciliation process. He called that "a mighty risky, last-chance kind of way to go."
Frye said the money Virginia spends is a bargain, because its participation gives it a say in a river that Maryland owns. At the very least, he said, there should have been public discussion.
Domenech said the governor asked all department heads to look at commissions and associations where the state had to pay more than $5,000 to determine if the state should stay in them.
"I would maintain," he said, "that the Potomac River Fisheries Commission should never have been on that list."
Domenech is not so confident about the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, which costs his state $155,000 a year. Virginia did not pay its dues last year. Recently, it sent the commission a letter saying it planned to withdraw from the group.
"The work of the ICPRB, they're not bad people, they don't do bad work, but in looking where the budget can be reduced, we determined the value we were getting was not worth the dues we were having to pay," Domenech said.
Virginia's dues are the highest of any state on the commission. Some jurisdictions, like the District, haven't paid dues in the last couple of years. The federal government also didn't pay its dues for a time.
As important as the funding is to the ICPRB, it is even more important that Virginia remain in the group so it can have a say on water allocation issues, said ICPRB executive director Joe Hoffman.
Hoffman said Virginia benefits from the ICPRB's work. If the ICPRB is working on a water quality project in Maryland, it can duplicate the project in Virginia easily. Two years ago, the ICPRB established one total maximum daily load standard for PCB contamination in the Potomac, because Maryland, Virginia and the District all had different standards. And recently, the ICPRB lent its chlorophyll expert, free of charge, to a James River project requesting her expertise.
"If we ran out of water in the Potomac because of mismanagement, and DC ran out of water, who's to blame for that?" Hoffman said. "It's not something that will happen now because of the skills we bring to the table."