SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown and the top Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday announced a $687 million plan to provide immediate help to drought-stricken communities throughout California, including $15 million for those with dangerously low drinking water supplies.
The proposal comes amid one of the driest periods in the history of the nation’s most populous state, forcing farmers to fallow fields and some communities to warn of low water supplies.
“This is a call to action. We must all do our part to conserve in this drought,” Brown said during a news conference at a state office near Sacramento.
The Democratic plan, which now goes to the Legislature, does not address long-term improvements to California’s water supply and distribution system. Rather, it provides money for immediate aid.
Most of the money — $549 million — will come in the form of accelerated spending from two bonds approved previously by voters. It will go toward local water conservation and recycling efforts, such as systems to capture stormwater and recharge groundwater supplies.
The general fund, the state’s main checkbook, also will be tapped. In addition to the money for emergency water supplies, $25.3 million from the general fund will provide food assistance in communities affected by the drought.
That would include areas of the Central Valley, among the nation’s most productive farming regions, that are suffering from high unemployment as agriculture-related jobs disappear.
The proposal also directs the State Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Public Health to boost water supplies by allowing for the use of recycled water and stormwater. Increased penalties for illegally diverting water also are part of the proposal.
Republican lawmakers, who were not included in the plan, said more must be done to address the state’s long-term water needs. They and many farmers have been advocating for more reservoirs to store water.
“While short-term help is needed, Sacramento must also focus on a long-term water solution,” two Republicans, Frank Bigelow and Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, said in a statement.
They said Republicans would propose legislation on Thursday to “secure California’s water future.”
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