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Governor signs drought legislation

Measure to assist drought-affected communities, provide nearly $700 million in funding

As California grapples with the driest period in its history, Gov. Jerry Brown last Friday signed legislation to assist drought-affected communities and provide funding to better use local water supplies.

"Legislators across the aisle have now voted to help hard-pressed communities that face water shortages," Brown said. "This legislation marks a crucial step, but Californians must continue to take every action possible to conserve water."

The legislation had broad, bipartisan support. SB 103 passed 34-2 in the Senate and 64-3 in the Assembly. SB 104 passed 33-3 in the Senate and 68-1 in the Assembly.

The bills provide $687.4 million to support drought relief, including money 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 and funding for securing emergency drinking water supplies for drought-impacted communities.

In addition, the legislation increases funding for state and local conservation corps to assist communities with efficiency upgrades and reduce fire fuels in fire risk areas, and includes $1 million for the Save Our Water public awareness campaign – which will enhance its mission to inform Californians how they can do their part to conserve water.

"Like the rain this weekend, this package is badly needed to help mitigate the effects of the historic drought California is facing, but also like the rain, we need to see more," said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

"That's why every Californian needs to continue to conserve water, and there's more work to do on storage, water quality improvement and environmental protections," Perez added. "If we don't act now, the problems we face will only get worse."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg added, "Swift action is what's needed to make sure we get the most out of every drop of water, to help our hardest-hit communities and to give emergency help to those who have lost their jobs from this severe drought. That swift action is exactly what we've taken with these measures.

"Neither the rain storms we're having now, nor this legislation will eliminate the drought and its impacts. But just like any amount of rain and snow will help, saving a year or even a few months in getting money out the door and getting water projects on-line can benefit California enormously."

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

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.

Brown signed the following bills:

• SB 103 by the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, the Budget Act of 2013.

• SB 104 by the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, Drought Relief.

Highlights of the legislation include:

Enhancing Water Conservation and Improving Water Supplies

* $549 million from the accelerated expenditure of voter-approved bonds, Proposition 84 and Proposition 1E, in the form of infrastructure grants for local and regional projects that are already planned or partially completed to increase local reliability, including recapturing of storm water, expanding the use and distribution of recycled water, enhancing the management and recharging of groundwater storage and strengthening water conservation.

* $30 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) for direct expenditures and grants to state and local agencies to improve water use efficiency, save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from state and local water transportation and management systems.

* $14 million for groundwater management across the state, including assistance to disadvantaged communities with groundwater contamination exacerbated by the drought.

* $10 million from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fund for the California Department of Food and Agriculture to invest in irrigation and water pumping systems that reduce water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

* $15 million from the General Fund for Emergency Drinking Water Fund to address emergency water shortages due to drought.

* $13 million from the General Fund to augment the California Conservation Corps and local community conservation corps to expand water use efficiency and conservation activities and to reduce fuel loads to prevent catastrophic fires.

* $25.3 million from the General Fund for food assistance, which will be structured to maximize the potential federal drought assistance that can be provided to provide food assistance to those impacted by the drought.

* $21 million from the General Fund and federal funds for housing related assistance for individuals impacted by the drought.

With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages, and the governor, joined by legislative leaders, announced legislation to immediately help communities deal with the devastating dry conditions affecting our state and to provide funding to increase local water supplies.

Brown met with President Barack Obama about crucial federal support during the ongoing drought last month, and the state continues to work with federal partners to ensure coordinated drought monitoring and response. The governor and the administration have also expressed support for federal legislation introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jim Costa, Tony Cárdenas and Sam Farr.

Across state government, action is being taken. The Department of General Services is leading water conservation efforts at state facilities, and the California State Architect has asked California school districts and Community Colleges to act on the Governor's call to reduce water usage. The Department of Transportation is cutting water use along California's roadways by 50 percent. Caltrans has also launched a public awareness campaign, putting a water conservation message on their more than 700 electronic highway signs.

In January, the state took action to conserve water in numerous Northern California reservoirs to meet minimum needs for operations impacting the environment and the economy, and recently the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced they would seek the authority to make water exchanges to deliver water to those who need it most.

The State Water Resources Control Board announced it would work with hydropower generators and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to preserve water in California reservoirs. Recently, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought.

The state also is working to protect local communities from the dangers of extreme drought.

The California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and is working with other state and local agencies to develop solutions for vulnerable communities.

CAL FIRE hired additional firefighters and is continuously adjusting staffing throughout the state to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture launched a drought website to help farmers, ranchers and farmworkers find resources and assistance programs that may be available to them during the drought.

Even as the state deals with the immediate impacts of the drought, it's also planning for the future.

Recently, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and CDFA released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.

The governor has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20%, and the Save Our Water campaign launched four public service announcements encouraging residents to conserve and has resources available in Spanish.

Last December, Brown formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California's preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, he issued an executive order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.

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