Bill would let $1 billion in drought relief flow in bone-dry California

Updated 8:13 AM EDT, Wed March 25, 2015

Story highlights

Gov. Jerry Brown: "This unprecedented drought continues with no signs yet of letting up"

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains is alarmingly low as summer looms

Los Angeles CNN —  

Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled an emergency $1 billion spending plan Thursday to tackle the state’s historic drought.

A staggering 11 trillion gallons are needed for California to recover from the emergency.

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León said the legislation will include two bills that will speed up contracting funds to “manage the drought and strengthen our infrastructure.”

According to the California State Water Resources Control Board, the package will specifically accelerate $128 million from the governor’s budget to provide direct assistance to workers and affected communities.

Proposition 1 funding, which enacted the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, will funnel $272 million into safe drinking water efforts and maintenance of water recycling infrastructure. Some $660 million from Prop 1 will also be accelerated for flood protection in urban and rural areas.

As part of the changes, Brown said additional measures will crack down on water inefficiency as California enters the fourth year of a worsening-water crisis.

“This unprecedented drought continues with no signs yet of letting up,” said Brown. “But we have a lot of good policies coming.”

To exacerbate matters, weather conditions are continuing to diminish natural resources. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which Californians rely on heavily during the summer for their water needs, is at a near record low.

The March snowpack measurement came in at 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5% of the March 3 historical average for the measurement site.

The overall water content for the Northern Sierra snowpack came in at 4.4 inches, just 16% of average for the date. Central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20% of average) and 5 inches (22% of average) respectively. Only in 1991 has the water content of the snow been lower.

“The drought isn’t letting up, so we can’t let up either,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said. “This legislation will deliver relief to Californians harmed by the drought and help us manage the significant problems the drought continues to cause. Since our skies are still clear, our job is too. And making sure we meet emergency needs, prepare for short term problems and advance longer-term projects are an important part of that effort.”

Brown anticipates his emergency package to move into action immediately. He has recently created a Drought Task Force to expedite the legislation.