By Laila Kearney
SACRAMENTO Feb 19 California Governor Jerry
Brown announced a $687 million drought-relief package on
Wednesday to help residents, farm workers and local communities
cope with a water shortage he called the worst in the state's
Brown, joined in Sacramento by top Democratic state
lawmakers, told a news conference the money would provide food
and housing aid to those who have lost work because of the
drought and expedite funding to state and local water
conservation and reuse projects.
The governor said he expected a bill containing the package
to quickly pass both chambers of the Democratic-controlled
California legislature and speed the money to drought-hit
communities across the parched state within a matter of weeks.
"Unlike a lot of problems we face here in Sacramento, this
drought is not caused by partisan gridlock or ideology, it's
caused by mother nature herself," Brown said. "This is serious.
Today is a call for action."
The measures, which also look to expand the recapture of
storm runoff and the use and distribution of recycled water,
would be paid for by voter-approved bonds and money transferred
from other funds.
Even as much of the United States has been pummeled by a
series of snow storms, California is in the grip of a drought
that threatens to inflict the worst water crisis in recorded
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.
California grows half the U.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
Brown has already urged Californians to reduce water
consumption by 20 percent voluntarily, and irrigation districts
and municipalities up and down the most-populous U.S. state Are
bracing for sharp cuts in deliveries.
'DROP IN THE BUCKET'?
"It is good to see the Governor and legislative Democrats
step up to the plate with some funding for real needs, but their
proposal is just a drop in the bucket," Republican Assembly
leader Connie Conway and Frank Bigelow, Republican vice chair of
the Assembly's Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, said in a
"It's clear that their approach won't make much of a dent in
addressing our current drought problem until next year at the
earliest, if then," they said. "More must be done to respond to
the many pleas from the families, farmers and small business
owners who are bearing the brunt of the extreme drought
conditions plaguing our state."
A spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council said
Brown's proposal showed a commitment to helping communities
diversify their water supplies in addition to providing
emergency drinking water.
"It tackles the immediate challenges we are facing as well
as those will be ahead of us as California faces a drier
future," said Steve Fleischli, the group's water program
State officials have already launched a public awareness
campaign, using radio spots to encourage conservation. Other
measures 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,
Last week, President Barack Obama announced nearly $200
million in aid for California, including $60 million for food
banks to help workers in agriculture-related industries who have
lost their jobs.