SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of a drought emergency in California received widespread praise from state lawmakers, although some criticized the governor for not taking action sooner.
Lawmakers, farmers and activists for weeks have been urging Brown to take action as California suffers through one of its driest years on record. State reservoirs are critically low, and cities across the state have already begun water-rationing measures.
"Today's drought declaration is better late than never, said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare. "This long-awaited drought declaration is more than a piece of paper -- it's a sign of hope and relief for the Valley farmers and workers who depend on water to feed the world."
Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno) was one of several lawmakers who had attended a rally on the Capitol steps the day before, urging the governor to act.
"Governor Brown should be applauded for declaring a drought," Perea said. "Record dry conditions are threatening thousands of jobs and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses of agricultural products that will result in increased food costs worldwide."
Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) defended the governor's deliberative approach to the water crisis, and said the declaration should put renewed emphasis on the debate over renegotiating the size of an $11-billion water bond on the November ballot. The bond has been criticized as
too large and stuffed with pork, and the Legislature has postponed a statewide vote on the measure several times.
"This reinforces the absolute urgency to get a water bond constructed, put on the ballot for this year in
such a way that could earn the voters' support,'' Perez said.
Though Brown has downplayed the effect of an official drought declaration, those affected by the water shortage say it will be an important tool in focusing Californians' attention on the problem.
During a recent two-day swing from Fresno to Bakersfield, Brown was peppered with questions about the water shortage. The governor met with farmers and agriculture leaders from the Westlands Water District in Fresno on Monday and promised that he would take action.
The governor's declaration "is so important because it shows action and awareness of the desperation that the San Joaquin Valley is going through. We are desperate for water and the solutions are obvious. We need to build storage," said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto).
Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) said she hoped the declaration would "soften the impact" of the drought on the Central Valley but that the state has more to do and President Obama must also act to get more water to the agricultural area.
"While this declaration will bring some help to our drought-stricken communities, it emphasizes the need for the state to have a comprehensive plan for the future," Fuller said. "This plan must include new storage, because without it we are destined to see droughts become more frequent and more devastating."