Gov. Brown, Legislators Unveil $1 Billion Emergency Plan to Address Drought ‘Crisis’

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Two days after California approved additional water-use restrictions amid the state's worsening drought, Gov.  Jerry Brown and legislative leaders from both parties unveiled a $1 billion relief plan to deal with the crisis.

The new legislation was announced by state Sen.  Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles and other legislators, alongside Brown, at a morning news conference in Sacramento.

"There is no greater crisis facing our state today than its lack of water," de Leon said. "Our rivers and streams our dry and our natural rescuers are shriveling up."

The historic drought, now in its fourth year, was a crisis for the economic, public health and the environment, the Senate leader said.

An appropriations bill puts more than $1 billion from previously approved bond measures -- Prop 1 from 2014 and Prop 1E from 2006 -- toward "shovel-ready" water and flood-control projects. A second bill creates an office and delivers funds designed to assist poor communities, primarily in the Central Valley, that have seen their drinking water supplies vanish.

The two bills were a first step and further water restrictions should be expected, Brown said.

Sunrise illuminates signs of former life amid the dry, steep banks of Lake Shasta, which was at just 42% of its average level on Sept. 30. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben/ Los Angeles Times)

Sunrise illuminates signs of former life amid the dry, steep banks of Lake Shasta, which was at just 42% of its average level on Sept. 30. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben/ Los Angeles Times)

The governor defended Tuesday's vote by the state water board to impose outdoor watering restrictions that some critics said did not go far enough to address the crisis as the rainy seasons ends with paltry results. He repeatedly said he did not want to "second guess" the board.

"I think the water board is acting at a pace that they think makes sense," Brown said. "When you bring the hammer down and when you don’t -- it’s a judgment call."

Promising to talk to water board members about further water restrictions, he compared creating new policies to repositioning a battleship on the water.

"We’ll try to go a little faster, but there are limits," Brown said.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted Tuesday to extend and expand emergency water regulations, which included an extension on an order prohibiting certain water use -- like washing down sidewalks -- and required urban water suppliers to limit the number of days that customers can water outdoors.

Other measures include requiring restaurants to serve water only to customers requesting it, and allowing hotel and motel patrons to decline sheet and towel cleaning.

The changes and the legislation come as more than 93 percent of California is mired in drought conditions that are considered severe or worse, the latest figures from this week revealed.

The snowpack has also hits its lowest level ever, according to Max Gomberg, the water board’s climate change advisor.

A scientist with NASA/JPL painted an even grimmer picture of the state's worsening drought, writing in a dire editorial for the L.A. Times that the state has “only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs.”

To deal with the ongoing water crisis, the state had already pledged some $870 million to support drought relief since last February, according to a news release from the governor office announcing Thursday's legislation.

Those funds included money to secure emergency drinking water for drought-affected communities, and bonds for projects to help local strengthen local water systems and save water.

Brown has also created a Drought Task Force "to closely manage precious water supplies, to expand water conservation wherever possible and to quickly respond to emerging drought impacts throughout the state," the release stated.

Amid the news measures, the governor has also asked all Californians to reduce their water usage and prevent water waste.

Asked if that message was getting through, Brown responded: “It takes a long time for people to grasp an unprecedented change in the state of California.”

Soon, he said, Californians will have to do more to conserve.

More information can be found by visiting the websites SaveOurWater.com and Drought.Ca.Gov.

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