Feds Offer $50 Million to Help Drought-Stricken West - NBC Bay Area

Feds Offer $50 Million to Help Drought-Stricken West

The money would be used for projects to help reduce water use and develop response plans as the state enters its fourth dry year



    The federal government is offering up to $50 million for drought relief in western states as California enters its fourth dry year with no relief in sight during what is historically the state's rainy season.

    The additional funding includes about $20 million for the Central Valley Water Project for efforts such as water transfers, drought monitoring for endangered species and diversifying water supplies.

    "California is ground zero for the drought. There is no state that is worse off," Jewell said.

    Farmers and local water departments can also compete for another $14 million for projects to help reduce water use and develop response plans to continuing drought conditions.

    The funding announcement comes as storms hit Northern California after an unusually dry January. A survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, California's primary water source, found a quarter of its normal water level.

    Springtime runoff from melting Sierra snow flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, providing freshwater for an estimated 25 million Californians.

    The Department of Interior funding is less than previous drought relief outlays. Last February, President Barack Obama pledged $183 million, mostly for farmers who lost livestock and food banks to help unemployed agriculture workers. Brown in March signed a $687 million drought-relief package, including for emergency drinking water and accelerating infrastructure supplies.

    The State Water Resources Control Board announced this week that Californians cut monthly water use by 22 percent in December, meeting Brown's call to slash residential water use by 20 percent for the first time. The board may impose further limits on outdoor water use as the state tries to protect supplies, but Brown said he's not ready for mandatory restrictions statewide.

    "I'm reluctant to expand the coercive power of state authority," Brown said. "In a democracy, it is fundamental that citizens be the driving force. It's my job to encourage and inspire and monitor, but before we have, you know, full-scale rationing we have to have a few more problems than we currently have."

    Brown also is proposing spending $115 million for emergency drinking water and money for firefighting this year as part of his budget.

    California is only delivering 15 percent of the water requested from the state's vast reservoir system to farmers and local agencies this year. The Interior Department will announce how much water it will send to Central Valley farmers under a separate reservoir system later this month.