By Laila Kearney
SACRAMENTO Feb 19 California Governor Jerry
Brown announced legislation on Wednesday to provide $687 million
in emergency drought relief to the parched state, where half a
million acres of cropland could go idle in a record production
Brown, joined at a press conference by Democratic
legislative leaders, said the plan would give money for food and
housing to workers impacted by the drought as well as fund
projects to conserve, capture and manage water in parched
"This is a call to action. We must all do our part to
conserve in this drought," Brown said in a statement.
He said the measures, which must still be approved by the
legislature, would be paid for by voter-approved bonds and money
transferred from other funds.
Coming off its driest year on record, California is gripped
by a drought that threatens to inflict the worst water crisis in
Drastic cutbacks in irrigation water could force farmers to
idle hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland in a record
production loss that industry officials say could cause billions
of dollars in damages.
"Without enough rain and snow this winter, we need to
capture as much water as we can through any means possible,"
Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg said.
"Water agencies around the state have projects ready to go
to capture and distribute more of the water that's now lost to
evaporation or simply flowing out to the ocean. They simply need
money to get those projects done," he added.
California grows half the nation's fruits and vegetables and
is the top U.S. 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
Brown has already called on Californians to reduce their
water usage by 20 percent and state officials have launched a
public awareness campaign, Save Our Water, using radio spots to
Other measures officials have taken in the most populous
U.S. state include hiring more firefighters in the face of
heightened wildfire risks.
But 10 communities are at acute risk of running out of
drinking water in 60 days, with the small city of Willits in the
northern part of the state facing the most drastic shortages,
according to public health officials.
Rural communities where residents rely on wells are at
particular risk because contaminants in groundwater become more
concentrated when less water is available to dilute them,
Democrats control a majority in both chambers of the
California legislature, making it easier for Brown to enact his
Last week, President Barack Obama announced nearly $200
million in aid for the parched state, including $60 million for
food banks to help workers in agriculture-related industries who
have lost their jobs.