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Politics & Government

California Governor Announces Billion Dollar Drought Relief Plan

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And we go now to California, where there are new emergency measures to deal with the state's record drought. It's headed into its fourth year. Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a billion-dollar effort to deal with the current situation and prepare for a future that will likely see more droughts. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: In Sacramento today, it was like a sequel to a really, really bad movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JERRY BROWN: This is a struggle and it's going to be something we're going to have to live with for how long we're not sure.

SIEGLER: There was Governor Jerry Brown at the podium again talking about this state's punishing drought. Most reservoirs are still less than half-full and it's been another dismal winter for rain and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Californians rely on snowmelt for water in the summer. Last year's version of this bill was about 700 million. This year, Brown wants to go further.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BROWN: This measure is another important step. It's carrying through on Proposition 1, which was virtually unanimous.

SIEGLER: It's a $1 billion package, but it's a mix of new spending and accelerated funding from recent voter-passed bond measures. The new money includes a 128 million dollar lifeline for farm workers in communities that are literally running out of water. There's also more than 250 million in funding for already approved infrastructure projects, like water recycling plants and storm water capture in cities. Here's what's not explicitly talked about in this bill and what state water regulators stopped short of doing with their new restrictions this week - there's still no mandatory statewide cutbacks for residential users.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BROWN: When you're, you know, piling a huge battleship, it turns slowly in the water. And our agencies are doing how they see it and certainly I will up the pressure, but - I don't always like to second-guess - but, people are going to do more.

SIEGLER: Another year and another emergency drought relief bill. But can you spend your way through a drought? No, but it certainly helps, says Mario Santoyo. He's an assistant general manager at Friant Water Authority, the agency that delivers water to many farms and rural towns in California's Central Valley.

MARIO SANTOYO: This year is so critically worse than last year.

SIEGLER: That's because to cope with the lack of rain, people have been pumping groundwater reserves to the point of depletion. Santoyo says a lot of poor rural towns, such as East Porterville, Calif., are in crisis mode.

SANTOYO: And they have no water. Their wells went out and so they're reliant on basically filling 55-gallon barrels at the fire station departments. And when they need to take a shower, they go to temporary shower setups near churches.

SIEGLER: Temporary showers and water stations - another scene that we saw last year. And just like last year, this year's version of the bill looks like it's also going to land on Governor Brown's desk in short order. State Democratic and Republican leaders lined up beside the governor at today's announcement. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Culver City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.