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Bill would provide nearly $700 million for drought relief

Emergency legislation includes funds for food, housng

Gov. Jerry Brown and state Democratic leaders announced Wednesday emergency legislation providing $687.4 million in funding to support drought relief projects.

The legislation includes funds for housing and food for workers directly affected by the drought, local projects that will help communities capture and manage water more efficiently, and emergency water supplies for communities hit hard by the drought, according to state officials.

It also includes increased funding for state and local conservation corps to help communities with efficiency upgrades and fire fuel reduction, as well as $1 million for a public awareness campaign urging California residents to conserve water.

"This is a call to action," Brown said Wednesday in announcing the legislation. "We must all do our part to conserve in this drought."

Many projects targeted in the legislation are those already in progress that lacked funding or that were planned for a later date but will now be moved up, officials said.

"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," said Sen. Darrell Steinberg. "It's time we focus on what we can do right now."

The bill also calls for the state Department of Public Health to adopt new groundwater replenishment regulations by July 1, and to work with the state Water Resource Control Board on measures to allow for the use of recycled water and storm water. In addition, it streamlines enforcement of water rights and increases penalties for illegally diverting water during drought conditions, officials said.

The proposal drew praise from some Bay Area officials.

"This legislation will allow agencies like ours across California to quickly expand programs that reduce water use," said David Rabbit, a

Sonoma County supervisor and director for the Sonoma County Water Agency. "Early actions now are critically important for the 'angry summer' that may await us."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would actively pursue funding for "shovel ready" water conservation and supply projects.

"I applaud Governor Brown and our legislative leaders for this proactive measure and their continued support during these critically dry times," Lee said.

Republican leaders were not present at Wednesday's news conference with Brown.

Republicans in January put forward a $9.2 billion water bond for the November ballot that they said would provide $3 billion for water storage, $2.5 billion to protect the Delta water supply and $1 billion for clean drinking water. The proposal has drawn fire from Democrats and environmental groups, however, because it includes new dams on some rivers.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said that the state needs a plan that includes increased water storage.

"The governor wants to spent $688 million but his only solution moving forward is to urge more conservation and that won't put people back to work," Huff said in response to the legislation announced Wednesday.

Brown announced a drought state of emergency in California in January and the California Department of Water Resources announced on Jan. 31 that it would not be making deliveries to customers this year.

— Bay City News Service

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