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Thursday, February 26, 2009

EFREN CARILLO: Budget, Water, and Health Care: Facing a Drought!

Budget, Water, and Health Care: Facing a Drought!

My first month has been a whirlwind. Even before taking office, I attended briefings on our County’s dire budget position. Our General Fund deficit is projected at over $22 million in the coming year. Administrators began the process of analyzing our position and planning action earlier this year than ever before. As a result we’ve already begun the difficult budget process, balancing our dwindling resources with our ongoing commitment to vital public services.

While Sonoma County finds itself in better financial shape than many other County governments in California, we still face difficult decisions. Working with community members, we will ensure that we emerge from this process preserving needed services and with an honest budget that reflects our citizen’s priorities.

One bright light at this difficult time is Sonoma County’s ongoing leadership in advancing climate protection efforts. The Board has begun its process for launching the Sonoma County Energy Independence Project. Under legislation that passed last year (AB811), Sonoma County is poised to be first in California to establish an innovative and wide spread renewable energy generation and water and energy conservation program for residential and commercial buildings.

This effort, which will not cost tax payers one dime, will allow home and business owners new access to green technology that save energy, water, and generates green house gas free energy. This program will also provide green jobs employing our residents. I’ve just returned from meeting with Obama Transition Team members in Washington, DC about securing funds for this innovative program.

Sonoma County has a broader climate protection agenda which includes reducing green house gas levels by 25% of 1990 levels by 2015.

Without a torrential downpour in the next month, we are heading into what has been dubbed the most severe drought in California history. A February 2nd news conference held by the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) raised the red flag that reservoir storage levels in Lakes Sonoma and Mendocino are at or near historic lows.

Also announced was the lowering of Russian River water releases to Federally mandated minimum flows in order to protect Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, which are listed on the endangered species list. Agriculture, recreation, and tourism also depend on water releases and will be affected by drought conditions.

Preparing for worse case scenarios, SCWA will call for a minimum 30% rationing order by early March.

This drought will affect us all. If we do not heed a call for reducing water usage, Lake Mendocino levels are projected to reach a level so low that portions of the Russian River may run dry! Urban water users consume about half of the water taken from the Russian River, while agriculture consumes the rest…and in the West County, many of us depend on private wells for our water.
SCWA is working with grape growers in the Russian River watershed to develop irrigation best management practices which will help reduce water use, and is working to implement a volunteer monitoring program of water levels throughout the Sonoma Valley basin to evaluate how the drought is affecting groundwater.

Reduce the amount of water you use starting right now!

Health Care:
Health programs have been targeted for reductions due to the State of California’s projected $41.6 billion deficit this fiscal year. The Governor proposes many actions including eliminating the California Children and Families Commission and eliminating 50% of local funds paid to support children’s programs.

The Sonoma Children and Families Commission (Sonoma First 5), is a valuable and effective resource which has expanded local enrollment in quality early childhood education programs, increased children’s access to health insurance and pediatric dental care, and provided parent education and support.

Fortunately, President Obama signed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization which will expand health coverage to approximately 12,000 children in Sonoma County. Making sure that every child in Sonoma County has access to affordable health care is critical to children, their families, and our community. For more information about the Healthy Families program, contact: Access to Health Care at 565-4471 or (Spanish speakers) 565-4476

I am truly enjoying my work for the Fifth District. If you have any concerns or questions, you’re welcome to contact my office at 565-2241-kindly, Efren

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