California governor signs $687 million drought relief legislation

LOS ANGELES, March 1 Sat Mar 1, 2014 6:29pm EST

LOS ANGELES, March 1 (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Saturday signed into law a $687 million drought-relief package to deal with a water shortage he has called the worst in the state's modern history.

"This legislation marks a crucial step - but Californians must continue to take every action possible to conserve water," Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The legislation is intended to help residents, farmers and local communities, in part by tapping voter-approved bond money.

It includes measures to expand the recapture of storm runoff and the use and distribution of recycled water, as well as funding to secure emergency drinking water supplies for certain communities hard hit by the drought.

While much of the United States has been pummeled by a series of snow storms, California in recent months has struggled with a drought that threatens to inflict the worst water crisis in recorded state history. A large winter storm soaked much of the state on Friday and Saturday, but officials said the precipitation would be too little to offset years of drought.

California grows half the nation's fruits and vegetables and is the top state by value of agricultural goods produced. Large-scale crop losses in the state could lead to higher consumer prices, especially for tree and vine produce grown only here.

"Neither the rain storms we're having now, nor this legislation will eliminate the drought and its impacts," state Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, said in a statement.

"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," Steinberg said.

Brown and several top state lawmakers announced the drought-relief legislation on Feb. 19. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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