By Fenit Nirappil
SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a $687 million plan to provide immediate relief to drought-stricken communities, a package that includes emergency money for communities running low on drinking water and farming communities where fallowed fields are leading to sky-high unemployment.
Amid one of California’s driest years on record, the Assembly and Senate voted to approve SB103 and SB104 and send the legislation to Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislative package will take effect immediately if signed by the governor, as expected.
The plan redirects money in the state budget and draws from two bonds previously approved by voters.
It includes almost $475 million in accelerated grant funding for water conservation and recycling projects. Another $15 million will go to communities running low on drinking water supplies while $47 million provides food and housing assistance for people in drought-stricken communities.
The plan also increases penalties for illegally diverting water.
“This is a lot of money that will help thousands of California families dealing with the drought,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said. The bills passed with large bipartisan majorities, even though a handful of Republicans in each house voted against them.
Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said negotiations in the days since the governor and Democratic leaders announced the package last week had largely satisfied the concerns of water districts and farmers in her district.
She noted the high unemployment throughout the Central Valley because of the drought-related cutbacks in the agricultural industry.
“We are willing to reach out and help some of those in my area who will have 30 or 40 percent unemployment,” she said.
Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, said he supported the bills but cautioned lawmakers have more work to do to solve the state’s water shortage.
“We cannot forget this does not fix the long-term water woes,” Bigelow says. “The legislation does not provide any real water.”