Brown announces emergency legislation in light of ongoing drought

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Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders announced Wednesday a $687.4 million package intended to relieve California’s drought by providing direct assistance to communities and funding water projects across the state.

The bill would assist workers directly impacted by the drought by providing money for housing and food. It would also fund local projects intended to increase water reliability and aid in capturing storm water and expanding the use of recycled water. Announced by Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the bill would also assist in preventing fires and address emergency water shortages.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which provides water to the city of Berkeley, may receive some of the money from the legislation, according to Abby Figueroa, a spokesperson for the district. EBMUD has contacted the California Department of Water Resources to explore the possibility of receiving funding for conservation and recycled water projects, Figueroa said.

No new taxes would arise from the passage of this bill, as most of its funding — $549 million — would come from bonds authorized by two water supply and control ballot measures passed in 2006.

The bill could take effect in “a couple of weeks,” according to Will Shuck, a spokesperson for Perez.

Due to the drought, EBMUD asked consumers to enact a 10 percent voluntary cutback in water usage earlier this month.

Should the situation worsen, it could increase this cutback to 15 percent or enforce mandatory rationing of up to 15 percent, according to Figueroa.

EBMUD’s water supply is currently two-thirds full, but the “forecast is pessimistic,” Figueroa said. As of Feb. 11, the precipitation level in the Mokelumne River watershed was about half of normal, according to an EBMUD press release. According to Figueroa, EBMUD gets 90 percent of its water from the watershed.

Michael Hanemann, a campus professor of agricultural and resource economics, said that although the legislation is necessary to ease immediate shortages, he would like to see further conservation efforts, attempts to increase the resilience of the water supply in the face of climate change and improvements to the administration of water rights, which he called the “worst of any major western state.”

He added that he saw statewide mandatory water rationing as unlikely, as the water supply differs tremendously across agencies.

“A uniform cutback for all agencies, regardless of whether they’re short, may not be the best policy,” he said.

According to Lisa McNeilly, campus director of sustainability, the campus is responding to the drought by launching a public awareness campaign and investigating equipment repairs or replacements that could decrease water consumption.

The city of Berkeley is assessing the governor’s proposal and whether it “makes sense for our water conservation and fire prevention efforts,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko in an email.

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected].