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Senate Subcommittee Advances Drought Relief Budget Plan

As part of ongoing legislative efforts to provide on-the-ground solutions to help communities across California, Senate Democrats laid out a $3 billion plan to address the statewide intensifying drought conditions during the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee 2 hearing on Thursday, April 29. The committee passed the Senate Budget Plan on Drought, Safe Drinking Water, Water Supply Reliability, and Ratepayer Assistance in a bipartisan 4-0 vote.

“Worsening drought and ongoing climate change are threatening the water that our communities, families, farmers, and businesses need to survive. That’s why the Senate is advancing a plan to allocate billions of dollars in drought relief and preparation to communities across the state—the single-largest investment in drought assistance California has ever seen,” said Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). “Along with our expanded wildfire prevention and response efforts, the drought relief plan will help California address some of our most pressing and dangerous challenges at a time when we’re facing the specter of historic damage.”

The Senate Budget Plan on Drought, Safe Drinking Water, Water Supply Reliability, and Ratepayer Assistance would direct $3 billion in federal and state funds—a combination of one-time federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan, one-time dollars from the General Fund, and an acceleration of General Obligation Bonds. A diverse array of investments will provide drought relief through community-based drinking water and water supply projects, water-use efficiency projects, and sustainable groundwater management; improve water supply reliability; and assist California families, businesses, and utilities by addressing the backlog of bills and arrearages that have accumulated through the pandemic.

This plan acknowledges and accounts for the reality that the drought is impacting communities and ecosystems throughout the state in unique and diverse ways due to varying regional conditions. Given the collision of California’s worsening drought conditions and lengthened wildfire season—the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that the entire state is facing abnormally dry conditions, with much of the state experiencing moderate or extreme drought conditions—the expenditures would be allocated on a one-time basis to off-the-shelf projects that can start immediately.

“This comprehensive Senate drought package will provide crucial relief for ratepayers and make immediate investments to help homeowners, businesses and the agricultural sector use water more efficiently,” said Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who serves as Chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee 2 on Resources, Environmental Protection and Energy. “With climate change making droughts more likely in the foreseeable future, this plan targets state and federal funds where they will have the greatest effect: conservation, sustainability and reliability. It aids local agencies, promotes water connections to larger systems, boosts water recycling, protects fish and wildlife, uses the latest technology to improve forecasting, and invests in sustainable groundwater management. Californians have answered the call when asked to conserve water and this plan will enable us to be even more efficient in the future.  It is an essential, responsible plan that provides the relief and resources to help us get through this drought.”

Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) was among those pleased with the plan.

“This $3 billion dollar package will bring much needed relief and help to mitigate the worsening drought conditions. The size of this package is essential to protecting ratepayers, supporting our agricultural sector, making smart investments in water efficiency, recycling and other sustainable projects – and also protecting Central Valley wetlands,” she said.

“We applaud Senate President Pro Tem Atkins for bringing a comprehensive drought package to the Legislature that recognizes the critical needs people and nature are confronting in California right now,” said Jay Ziegler, Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy. “The budget plan will help ensure that safe, affordable drinking water is available to all Californians, while also providing immediate investments in science to measure drought impacts, funding to support sustainable groundwater management, and actions to secure water for fish and wildlife. This should be a model for other western states.”