Plugging a hole in Illinois' water budgetary bucket
Yesterday afternoon the Ill. General Assembly fixed a glaring omission in the State's budget by passing two related bills — Senate Bill 1311 and Senate Bill 2412— that (among other things) restored funding for the Ill. State Geological Survey and Ill. State Water Survey, which are both housed in the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute. This is good news and averts what would have been a truly unfortunate mistake.
The $15.8 million allocated to the University to fund the Institute allows it to leverage external funds from a variety of other federal, state, and local resources. Without that State support, the Institute's ability to manage those external funds and complete contracted research becomes essentially impossible. In FY2011, the $15.8 in General Revenue Funds leveraged approximately $62 million in external funding, an admirable 4:1 ratio.
The work of the Institute, and particulalry the State Water Survey, is more important than ever. For instance, just last month the Northwest Water Planning Alliance, State Water Survey, MPC, and others worked to coordinate a two-week period of deep well monitoring so that our state, region and communities could have a current, comprehensive understanding of where water levels are in our underground aquifers. For water resource managers, those data are critically important. After all, you can't manage what you don't measure.
Yet this budget issue is an ongoing problem. A bit of history: In 2009, the Ill. State Scientific Surveys were moved from the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources to the University system (and since renamed the Prairie Research Institute), and since then it's been unclear where their budget belongs. The Institute provides essential State services — groundwater modeling, stream flow measurements, soil mapping, climate research, invasive species mitigation, etc. — so one could argue the State should include a line item in its budget for its continued work. At the same time, the Institute is now housed within the University, and one could argue it should be accounted for there. Of course, a large portion of the University system's budget comes from the State, and thus the cost of the Institute could always simply be added to the cost of other University programs funded by the State.
Unfortunately, this past summer neither of those happened. Neither the State nor the University included the Institute in their budgets, leaving its ability to function in question. The University would have had to cut $15.8 million from somewhere else (which it was reluctant to do), or the Institute would have been left in limbo. The bills passed yesterday transfer $15.8 millions from the State to the University to fix the funding oversight for next year, but without a clear policy — i.e., the Institute shall receive an annual allocation from the State, or the Institute's budget shall be added to the University's, or something — we could be right back in the same limbo next year.
This is a straightforward issue that needs resolution, and MPC and its partners will work toward that next year.