LOS ANGELES — California lawmakers are proposing legislation to accelerate more than $1 billion in bond spending to address a drought that's now in its fourth year.
California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle held a press conference on the bills Thursday, just days after Jay Famiglietti, a NASA water scientist, reported that the state has just one year of water left in its reservoirs.
The proposed legislation contained in two bills would accelerate spending voters already approved in November as part of a $7.5 billion water bond, Brown said.
"We need to get that money out the door now for shovel-ready projects and existing water programs that only need funding to get started," said Democratic Sen. President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon. "No delay. No red tape."
De Leon said there are currently tens of thousands of people in the state without drinking water; and those numbers are growing.
The legislation includes more than $1 billion for local drought relief and infrastructure projects. It also speeds up $128 million in funding from the governor's budget to provide direct assistance to workers and communities impacted by drought. It includes $272 million in Proposition 1 water bond funding for safe drinking water and water recycling and $660 million from Proposition 1E for flood protection in urban and rural areas.
"There is no greater crisis facing our state today than its lack of water," de Leon said. "It is an economic crisis, because our farms and factories need water to create jobs and supply the world's food and products. It is an environmental crisis, because our snow pack is at the lowest in history and our streams and rivers are drying up."
The spending is normally approved as part of budget negotiations that last through June, but de Leon said the state can't wait until then, especially since no federal aid has been forthcoming.
"Congress hasn't pitched in a penny," de Leon said.
With the Sierra Nevada snowpack well below normal levels, the State Water Resources Control Board put in restrictions limiting lawn watering and requiring people to request water in restaurants. The governor also has asked residents to reduce their water use by 20%.
"The drought isn't letting up, so we can't either," said State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a Democrat. "This legislation will deliver relief to Californians harmed by the drought and help us manage the significant problems the drought continues to cause."
Senate Republican leader Bob Huff said his party's leadership was briefed on the legislation just prior to the press conference and they will have to review it in more detail.
"So far, it sounds like a good approach - and a reasonable start," Huff said. "There is no question that California's drought crisis has worsened - and that we need to act now."
The legislation still has to receive majority approval from state legislators.
"It is going to be more difficult if the drought goes on another couple of years," Brown said. "But, in crisis, people tend to rise to the occasion and I am sure Californians will."