Environment & Science

Analyst urges California lawmakers to back Gov. Brown's drought measures — for the short and long term

File: California Gov. Jerry Brown in a 2014 TV ad for propositions 1 and 2.
File: California Gov. Jerry Brown in a 2014 TV ad for propositions 1 and 2.
Brown for Governor/YouTube

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California state analysts are advising lawmakers to adopt most of the $323 million drought response measures Gov. Jerry Brown has called for in his budget proposal.

A report released Friday by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) — a non-partisan fiscal and policy adviser to the California Legislature — says that the ongoing drought necessitates continuing support.

“We believe the Governor’s approach to focus primarily on the most urgent human and environmental drought-related needs makes sense. The severity of enduring drought conditions supports the continued need for these response activities,” states the report.

Hopes that a strong El Niño would bring a large volume of water to California this winter have yet to be realized. Though early winter storms brought significant precipitation, the state remains behind even an average year in terms of accumulation from snow and rain.

Among the more immediate drought response needs are continuing measures designed to protect both humans and wildlife. An analyst for the LAO said that some areas of the Central Valley have no viable methods of obtaining drinking water and have to rely on deliveries of bottled water. Also, some endangered species have seen catastrophic losses in recent years due to the drought.

“The winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River had extremely high mortality rates in both 2014 and 2015 because of high temperatures in the river, and the state has tried to manage water and get them the temperatures that they need, and that failed pretty extensively in 2014 and even worse in 2015,” said Rachel Ehlers, principal fiscal and policy analyst at the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Ehlers said it’s also necessary that the Legislature make decisions that will keep the state resilient in what is likely to be a future of more intense droughts.

“Given the drought is likely to continue in the near term, and droughts are certain to reoccur — and according to scientific predictions could be more frequent and intense — we’ve got a few key recommendations for the Legislature both for the short term and the long term,” Ehlers said.

While the LAO supports most of Gov. Brown’s measures, it said it would need additional information justifying four cap-and-trade-funded conservation proposals. One reason: the office’s uncertainty about whether the proposals would satisfy requirements that cap-and-trade revenue result in a reduction of greenhouse gasses.

The LAO report summarizes its recommendations like this:

LAO report on drought response in proposed budget