(1) The board may make an annual allocation each fiscal year from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund to the Nebraska Environmental Endowment Fund as provided in section 81-15,174.01. The board shall make annual allocations from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund and may make annual allocations each fiscal year from the Nebraska Environmental Endowment Fund for projects which conform to the environmental categories of the board established pursuant to section 81-15,176 and to the extent the board determines those projects to have merit. The board shall establish a calendar annually for receiving and evaluating proposals and awarding grants. To evaluate the economic, financial, and technical feasibility of proposals, the board may establish subcommittees, request or contract for assistance, or establish advisory groups. Private citizens serving on advisory groups shall be reimbursed for their actual and necessary expenses pursuant to sections 81-1174 to 81-1177.
(2) The board shall establish rating systems for ranking proposals which meet the board's environmental categories and other criteria. The rating systems shall include, but not be limited to, the following considerations:
(a) Conformance with categories established pursuant to section 81-15,176;
(b) Amount of funds committed from other funding sources;
(c) Encouragement of public-private partnerships;
(d) Geographic mix of projects over time;
(e) Cost-effectiveness and economic impact;
(f) Direct environmental impact;
(g) Environmental benefit to the general public and the long-term nature of such public benefit; and
(h) Applications recommended by the Director of Natural Resources and submitted by the Department of Natural Resources pursuant to subsection (7) of section 61-218 shall be awarded fifty priority points in the ranking process for the 2011 grant application if the Legislature has authorized annual transfers of three million three hundred thousand dollars to the Water Resources Cash Fund for each of fiscal years 2011-12 and 2012-13 and has stated its intent to transfer three million three hundred thousand dollars to the Water Resources Cash Fund in fiscal year 2013-14. Priority points shall be awarded if the proposed programs set forth in the grant application are consistent with the purposes of reducing consumptive uses of water, enhancing streamflows, recharging ground water, or supporting wildlife habitat in any river basin determined to be fully appropriated pursuant to section 46-714 or designated as overappropriated pursuant to section 46-713.
(3) A grant awarded under this section pursuant to an application made under subsection (7) of section 61-218 shall be paid out in the following manner:
(a) The initial three million three hundred thousand dollar installment shall be remitted to the State Treasurer for credit to the Water Resources Cash Fund no later than fifteen business days after the date that the grant is approved by the board;
(b) The second three million three hundred thousand dollar installment shall be remitted to the State Treasurer for credit to the Water Resources Cash Fund no later than May 15, 2013; and
(c) The third three million three hundred thousand dollar installment shall be remitted to the State Treasurer for credit to the Water Resources Cash Fund no later than May 15, 2014, if the Legislature has authorized a transfer of three million three hundred thousand dollars from the General Fund to the Water Resources Cash Fund for fiscal year 2013-14.
(4) It is the intent of the Legislature that the Department of Natural Resources apply for an additional three-year grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund that would begin in fiscal year 2014-15 and a three-year grant that would begin in fiscal year 2017-18 and such application shall be awarded fifty priority points in the ranking process as set forth in subdivision (2)(h) of this section if the following criteria are met:
(a) The Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature has examined options for water funding and has submitted a report electronically to the Clerk of the Legislature and the Governor by December 1, 2012, setting forth:
(i) An outline and priority listing of water management and funding needs in Nebraska, including instream flows, residential, agricultural, recreational, and municipal needs, interstate obligations, water quality issues, and natural habitats preservation;
(ii) An outline of statewide funding options which create a dedicated, sustainable funding source to meet the needs set forth in the report; and
(iii) Recommendations for legislation;
(b) The projects and activities funded by the department through grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund under this section have resulted in enhanced streamflows, reduced consumptive uses of water, recharged ground water, supported wildlife habitat, or otherwise contributed towards conserving, enhancing, and restoring Nebraska's ground water and surface water resources. On or before July 1, 2014, the department shall submit electronically a report to the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature providing demonstrable evidence of the benefits accrued from such projects and activities; and
(c) In addition to the grant reporting requirements of the trust, on or before July 1, 2014, the department provides to the board a report which includes documentation that:
(i) Expenditures from the Water Resources Cash Fund made to natural resources districts have met the matching fund requirements provided in subdivision (5)(a) of section 61-218;
(ii) Ten percent or less of the matching fund requirements has been provided by in-kind contributions for expenses incurred for projects enumerated in the grant application. In-kind contributions shall not include land or land rights; and
(iii) All other projects and activities funded by the department through grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund under this section were matched not less than forty percent of the project or activity cost by other funding sources.
(5) The board may establish a subcommittee to rate grant applications. If the board uses a subcommittee, the meetings of such subcommittee shall be subject to the Open Meetings Act. The subcommittee shall (a) use the rating systems established by the board under subsection (2) of this section, (b) assign a numeric value to each rating criterion, combine these values into a total score for each application, and rank the applications by the total scores, (c) recommend an amount of funding for each application, which amount may be more or less than the requested amount, and (d) submit the ranked list and recommended funding to the board for its approval or disapproval.
(6) The board may commit funds to multiyear projects, subject to available funds and appropriations. No commitment shall exceed three years without formal action by the board to renew the grant or contract. Multiyear commitments may be exempt from the rating process except for the initial application and requests to renew the commitment.
(7) The board shall adopt and promulgate rules and regulations and publish guidelines governing allocations from the fund. The board shall conduct annual reviews of existing projects for compliance with project goals and grant requirements.
(8) Every five years the board may evaluate the long-term effects of the projects it funds. The evaluation may assess a sample of such projects. The board may hire an independent consultant to conduct the evaluation and may report the evaluation findings to the Legislature and the Governor. The report submitted to the Legislature shall be submitted electronically.