California Gov. Brown Announces Emergency Drought Legislation

Gov. Jerry Brown and the top Democratic lawmakers are proposing to spend $687 million to help drought-stricken communities throughout California, including $15 million for those with dangerously low drinking water supplies.

The governor announced the legislative proposal Wednesday, describing it as "a call to action" as the nation's most populous state deals with one of the driest periods on record.

Most of the money -- $549 million -- will come in the form of accelerated spending from two bonds approved previously by voters. It will go toward local water conservation and recycling efforts, such as systems to capture stormwater and recharge groundwater supplies.

The general fund, the state's main checkbook, also will be tapped. In addition to the money for emergency water supplies, $25.3 million from the general fund will provide food assistance in communities affected by the drought.

The proposal, which now goes to lawmakers for consideration, does not address long-term improvements to California's water supply and distribution system.

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A spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, John Vigna, told The Associated Press that the total cost would be roughly $680 million, but 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.''

Neither the governor's office nor the legislative leaders released details.

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.''

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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. A spokeswoman for Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said she would comment after details of the Democratic plan are released later Wednesday.

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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.

Refresh this page for live video from Sacramento. The news conference is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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