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Flurry of Water Bills Signed in Dry California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - In a weeklong bill-signing spree, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills prohibiting cities from banning artificial turf landscapes and to help low-income families pay their water bills.

With a legislative deadline looming and the Golden State reeling from a multiyear drought, Brown signed 24 separate water bills aimed at improving water quality and conservation efforts.

Assembly Bill 1164 bars cities and counties from enforcing laws that prohibit residents from replacing lawns with artificial turf or other drought-tolerant landscaping. The bill's author, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, said the measure "empowers Californians to conserve water" and protects them from laws in cities like Glendale which prohibit the installation of artificial turf.

"With 60 percent of residential water going to lawns and other outdoor uses, it's time for government to stop being part of the problem," Gatto said in a statement. "This legislation will allow water-conscious residents to diversify their water-saving efforts."

Brown also cleared the way Friday for the state's first ever low-income water rate assistance program, to be implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board. In a signing letter , Brown said many Californians "still lack affordable, safe drinking water" and he blamed Proposition 218 for preventing water agencies from creating similar assistance programs offered by other utilities.

Proposition 218 - passed by state voters in 1996 - restricts municipalities from charging prices that exceed the cost of providing a service. Brown said his office will look to work with the Legislature to address the shortfalls of the initiative in the next year.

While many water utilities already offer assistance to low-income residents, Assembly Bill 401 provides the framework for every water supplier in the state to create discounted pricing.

A dramatic spike in water rates in many Northern California communities prompted the bill's author, Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa, to push the legislation.

"With the signature of this bill, the state will now develop a program that will help relieve the financial burden on seniors and low-income families who are dealing with significant costs of water," Dodd said in a statement.

Dodd pointed to water rates in various poor communities that have risen more than 300 percent over the last decade as inspiration for the law, including the town of Lucerne in Lake County.

Brown also signed into law a measure requiring water agencies to assess water infrastructure systems and report on their vulnerability to earthquakes. The bill was authored by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, whose district was decimated by the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Voters recently approved a $810 million water bond to fund water infrastructure projects that will likely help fund Senate Bill 664 .

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