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Gov. Brown announces emergency drought legislation
Bill provides $688 million in relief funds
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Governor Brown announces emergency drought legislation. Left to right: Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, President pro Tem Steinberg, Director Ghilarducci, Speaker Perez. - photo by JUSTIN SHORT/Office of the Governor

As the drought continues to devastate agriculture dependent communities, Gov. Jerry Brown has announced emergency legislation to immediately help communities deal with the extremely dry conditions, while providing funding to increase local water supplies.

Providing $687.4 million to support drought relief, the legislation includes funding for housing and food for workers directly impacted by the drought, bond funds for projects to help local communities more efficiently capture and manage water, in addition to financial support for securing emergency drinking water supplies for drought-impacted regions.

“This is a call to action. We must all do our part to conserve in this drought,” said Brown. “The state is doing its part by providing immediate funding for drinking water, food, housing and assistance for water-conserving technologies.”

Additionally, the legislation will increase funding for state and local conservation corps to assist communities with efficiency upgrades, while reducing fire fuels in fire risk areas. Including $1 million for the Save Our Water campaign, the legislation also aims to raise public awareness of the drought while informing Californians of ways they can boost their own water conservation efforts.

“Without enough rain and snow this winter, we need to capture as much water as we can through any means possible. 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,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who joined Gov. Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez to announce the legislation. “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.”

In addition to the funding provided through the legislation, the bill calls for the California Department of Public Health to adopt new groundwater replenishment regulations by July 1, while ordering the department to work alongside the State Water Resources Control Board to develop additional measures allowing for the use of recycled water and storm water capture for increasing water supply availability.

“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,” said Speaker Perez. “These targeted responses will have tangible results, but the solution requires more than legislation and investment. Every Californian needs to be part of the solution, and we strongly urge every person in our state to take action to conserve water.”

The bill also makes statutory changes to ensure existing water rights laws are followed, including streamlined authority to enforce water rights laws and increased penalties for illegally diverting water during drought conditions. The bill also provides the California Department of Housing and Community Development with the greatest flexibility to maximize migrant housing units.

While local legislators applaud Gov. Brown’s new legislation, noting the significant impacts it will have on drought-stricken communities, some believe the Governor’s actions are not enough.

“While I am pleased Governor Brown is finally doing something, these measures being taken by the federal and state governments are simply too little too late,” said Assembly member Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto. “I hope it is becoming abundantly clear at this point that more storage is the only way to prevent future droughts from so dangerously impacting the lives of Californians. People would rather keep their farms and their jobs, rather than accept mere compensation for the loss of them in times of drought.”

Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) echoed Olsen’s concern, saying that “while the additional funding will help in the short-term, we also need to prioritize long-term solutions that will bring additional water to our state by increasing storage capacity and upgrading our 50 year old water system.”

“We must take immediate action to prepare for the devastating effects of the drought on our communities,” said Cannella. “The legislation presented today will provide much needed relief to those regions that will be most impacted.”

Like many other state legislators, Cannella has taken on his own water-related bill, joining with Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) to introduce SB 927 that would put a $9.2 billion water bond prioritizing water storage, clean drinking water and Delta sustainability on the November ballot.