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California drought: $687.4-million plan would free up water supplies

By Anthony York

8:14 PM PST, February 19, 2014

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SACRAMENTO -- A proposed $687.4-million drought-relief package was unveiled Wednesday to free up water supplies and aid Californians facing financial ruin.

The proposal presented by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders would provide millions of dollars to clean up drinking water, improve conservation and make irrigation systems more efficient.

"We really don't know how bad the drought is going to be," Brown said to reporters at the state's emergency operations center.

The plan contains money for emergency food and housing for those out of work because of the drought, including farmworkers, and to provide emergency drinking water to communities in need.

Under the legislation, which could be enacted within weeks, the State Water Resources Control Board would be directed to find ways to expand the use of recycled water and storm-water runoff.

Funds also would be available to replenish groundwater supplies, and for state and local agencies to clear brush in drought-stricken areas that pose a high fire risk.

The new package sidesteps a controversial proposal to replumb the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and is silent on a multibillion-dollar water bond measure scheduled for the November ballot.

President Obama toured parched San Joaquin Valley croplands last week and raised the GOP's ire by tying California's drought to global warming. He said that unless carbon pollution is curbed, such dry spells will grow more severe.

The president pledged $160 million in federal assistance to farmers, cattle ranchers and others hurt by dry conditions.

No partisan divide is expected to impede the new drought legislation in Sacramento, where Democrats hold a supermajority in the Assembly and Senate and could approve the package without Republican support.

Still, passage is not assured: When it comes to water, Californians are split more by geography than by political allegiance.

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anthony.york@latimes.com