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CA Lawmakers Propose $1 Billion Drought Bill

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a record $1 billion drought emergency plan Thursday, seeking relief for a state desperate for water as it enters a fourth consecutive year of drought.

Brown introduced the drought legislation with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon and other legislative members, saying it centers around funding for water supply projects and relief to farming communities.

"The drought is not letting up, so we're not either," Atkins said. "The package provides critical emergency water and food services and much needing funding for those small communities impacted by a lack of drinking water."

The package gives $128 million in expenditures from the Governor's budget directly to communities struggling with food and water shortages and $272 million to safe drinking water and recycling efforts.

With this latest proposal, the Golden State continues to spend in hopes of easing the effects of its historic drought. Last year, Brown signed a similar $687 million drought package.

De Leon said the package is a two-part bill consisting of voter-approved bond appropriations, and also creates a first-of-its-kind office to help communities deal with drought issues.

"Translation - many of the poor communities in the Central Valley," Leon said.

Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, who represents portions of Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties, supported Leon's portrayal of Central Valley farming communities struggling with the drought.

"In the last two years, food bank lines have tripled in Firebaugh because there are no jobs due to lack of water," Olsen said. "It is shameful that people in California are going hungry because of a lack of water and this is a good step toward addressing that situation."

The Legislature was forced to enact the record-package due to the severity of the drought and the lack of help from Washington, De Leon said.

"We definitely cannot wait for Washington to help. Congress hasn't pitched in a penny so far," he added. "There's no greater crisis facing our state today than its lack of water."

2015 has not brought much precipitation to California. January was the driest on record and March is approaching record-low levels.

But the drought has created plenty of water-related legislation. On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board voted to impose statewide mandatory water restrictions on outdoor watering for the first time in state history and stricter measures could follow.

Of that decision, board chair Felicia Marcus said: "Today's action is just a tune-up and a reminder to act, and we will consider more significant actions in the weeks to come.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $7.5 billion water bond in November aimed at increasing reservoir storage and improving water supply infrastructure. Gov. Brown drove the Proposition 1 charge last fall, donating $3 million to the campaign.

Brown and the legislators continue to say that while the emergency drought plans and money are necessary, the cure to California's ailments is out of their control.

"It's not a partisan problem, the drought is a real problem, a hydrological challenge and we're going to beat it the best way we can by pulling together," Brown said.

When asked if this and other drought issues are a strong enough response, Brown promised more bills and stricter water restrictions for Californians.

"There will be restrictions for growers, for consumers, for home builders and for home dwellers and we're all going to have to pull together," Brown said. "The fact that we have Republicans and Democrats before you indicates that."

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