California drought: Brown proposes $1 billion in drought spending

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Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Thursday proposed legislation to accelerate more than $1 billion in drought-relief bond spending for California as it copes with a fourth dry year.

"We need to get the money out the door now for shovel-ready projects and existing water programs that only need funding to get started," Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said. "No delay. No red tape."

Brown said the proposal accelerates spending that voters have already approved for water and flood projects, including last year's $7.5 billion bond measure.

The package of two bills would provide some funding for immediate aid to communities facing dire water shortages and unemployment. It includes money for emergency drinking water, food aid for the hardest-hit counties, fish and wildlife protections and groundwater management.

The legislation will need majority approval from the state Legislature which is controlled by Democrats. Republican legislative leaders joined Brown at a news conference Thursday but were not involved in negotiating the deal.

Such spending is normally approved as part of budget negotiations that last through June, but de Leon said Californiacannot wait until then.

"Congress hasn't pitched in a penny so far," he added.

Although the plan being announced is labeled as emergency legislation, much of the funding has been available to the state for years. Some of the projects that will benefit could take more than a year before there is a noticeable increase in water supplies.

The announcement came a year after Brown signed a $687 million drought-relief package, most of which went to accelerate water infrastructure projects. A third of that funding has still not been allocated and the Department of Water Resources has not yet recommended how the money should be spent.

The water in the Sierra Nevada snowpack — California's largest water source — is far below normal. Winter is normallyCalifornia's rainy season, but it's drawing to an end without significant storms to replenish reservoirs.

Continuing dry conditions drove state water regulators to ramp up mandatory water restrictions on California residents. Under rules approved Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board, Californians can't water their lawns daily and must ask for water when dining at restaurants.

The last drought relief-package provided 100,000 households with boxes from food banks and rental assistance to 2,000 farm workers, according to figures provided in September by the Department of Social Services and the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The state water department used funding to award local water agencies $221 million in October for a variety of projects that ranged from boosting water recycling to creating new wells and fixing leaks.

The state is expected to award another $250 million by fall.

This story has been updated.

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