Gov. Brown proposes $687 million for California drought relief

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Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday proposed spending nearly $700 million to provide immediate help for communities coping with California's drought.

The plan expands on a proposal originally sought by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

According to the governor's office, the total cost is $687.4 million. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, John Vigna, told The Associated Press that the plan does not attempt to address long-term solutions for California's water supply or delivery system.

"This is not going to solve the drought crisis," Vigna said. "It's essentially a package to address immediate effects of the drought."

Gov. Brown's office released a list of what they see as highlights of the legislation:

  • $549 million from the accelerated expenditure of voter-approved bonds, Proposition 84 and Proposition 1E, in the form of infrastructure grants for local and regional projects that are already planned or partially completed to increase local reliability, including recapturing of storm water, expand the use and distribution of recycled water, enhance the management and recharging of groundwater storage and strengthen water conservation.
  • $20 million transferred from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) for direct expenditures and grants to state and local agencies to improve water use efficiency, save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from state and local water transportation and management systems.
  • $14 million for groundwater management across the state, including assistance to disadvantaged communities with groundwater contamination exacerbated by the drought.
  • $10 million transferred from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fund for the California Department of Food and Agriculture to invest in irrigation and water pumping systems that reduce water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $10 million transferred from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fund for the DWR to establish a grant program for state and local agencies to implement residential, commercial or institutional water efficiency projects that reduce water and energy use.
  • $15 million from the General Fund for Emergency Drinking Water Fund to address emergency water shortages due to drought.
  • $13 million from the General Fund to augment the California Conservation Corps and local community conservation corps to expand water use efficiency and conservation activities and to reduce fuel loads to prevent catastrophic fires.
  • $25.3 million from the General Fund for food assistance, which will be structured to maximize the potential federal drought assistance that can be provided to provide food assistance to those impacted by the drought.
  • $21 million from the General Fund and federal funds for housing related assistance for individuals impacted by the drought.

Earlier this year, Steinberg spoke generally about using existing voter-approved bond money for a variety of immediate needs. That would include providing drinking water to communities where supplies are running short and boosting water-conservation efforts.

"The drought is now, and we ought to do everything we can and appropriate any existing dollars we have available as soon as possible to help local communities deal with the drought," Steinberg told reporters last month in the Capitol as he began discussions on the proposal. "We're talking about there are unexpended resources from previously passed water and environmental bonds that could be put to use to help local communities deal with the short-term impacts of the drought."

Lawmakers still need to negotiate changes to an $11.1 billion water bond that is on the November ballot, a measure that is supposed to provide the longer-term fixes sought by farmers and cities.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said he supports a proposal by Republican state Sens. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Andy Vidak of Hanford. They want to replace the current water bond, which originally was placed on the ballot in 2009 and has been pushed back several times, with a $9.2 billion measure.

Republican lawmakers were not included in the news conference announced by the governor's office.

Most parts of California are under extreme drought conditions after three winters with below-normal rain and snowfall. As many as 17 communities are at risk of running out of drinking water in the months ahead, and farmers throughout the state have been fallowing fields and tearing up orchards.

The State Water Project, which supplies water to 25 million Californians and about 750,000 acres of farmland, will deliver no additional water later this year to its customers, the first time in its 54-year history that it has given a so-called zero allocation. That could change if precipitation picks up in the weeks ahead.

This story has been updated.

With contributions from KPCC staff

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