Gov. Brown Touts Massive Drought Package

     SACRAMENTO (CN) - Calling California's drought "the worst water shortage crisis in modern history," Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced a $687 million bill Wednesday to ease the state's growing water woes.
     Joined by Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Brown called on lawmakers to pass the emergency plan, which provides a combination of drought relief and conservation. Last month, Brown officially declared a state of emergency and called on the Golden State's 38 million residents to reduce water usage by 20 percent.
     The State Water Project followed the governor's Jan. 31 announcement that it would release no water to the 25 million residents and farmers it serves this year, affecting mostly in Southern California and the Central Valley. City and town reservoirs will instead have to rely on reservoirs and underground wells, where supplies are also dwindling in the face of the driest year on record.
     "This is a call to action," Brown said of the proposed legislation. "We must all do our part to conserve in this drought. The state is doing its part by providing immediate funding for drinking water, food, housing and assistance for water-conserving technologies."
     The $687.4 million bill would be financed in large part by the accelerated expenditure of voter-approved bonds, with $549 million going to on ongoing and approved regional efforts to recycle water and capture storm runoff. That portion of the bill also focuses on schemes to recharge underground aquifers and conservation programs.
     Legislators would also tap the state's greenhouse gas emissions fund to invest in smart irrigation and water efficiency plans, to the tune of $40 million. California's general fund would foot an $88 million bill to provide emergency drinking water, mitigate the drought's impact on farmers and farm workers and prepare for what will likely be a ferocious fire season this summer.
     "By making smart use of these funds, we can alleviate and prevent some of the worst impacts of the drought and, at the same time, make badly needed improvements to our water system that will benefit California for years to come," Perez said. "These targeted responses will have tangible results, but the solution requires more than legislation and investment. Every Californian needs to be a part of the solution, and we strongly urge every person in our state to take action to conserve water."
     Steinberg echoed the conservation message, and urged fellow lawmakers to work quickly to pass the bill.
     "Without enough rain and snow this winter, we need to capture as much water as we can through any means possible," Steinberg said. "Water agencies around the state have projects ready to go to capture and distribute more of the water that's now lost to evaporation or simply flowing out to the ocean. They simply need money to get those projects done. We don't have to ignore environmental protections, raise fees or get bogged down in political arguments over projects that will take many years to produce a single drop of water. It's time to focus on what we can do right now."
     The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting below-normal precipitation across the entire state for the rest of the rainfall season, which ends June 30. After that, forecast models indicate "equal chance" of above, average or below average rainfall through 2015.