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More Money For Drought Aid, But No Mandatory Conservation

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses new emergency drought legislation at a Capitol news conference Thursday, joined by Democratic and Republican leaders.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders aren’t calling for any mandatory water conservation in this fourth year of drought. Instead, they’re offering emergency drought aid for a second straight year, even though the state has yet to spend nearly half of last year’s emergency drought money.

The governor faced repeated questions over whether the State Water Board’s new conservation actions are enough. The board limited outdoor residential watering to twice a week – a requirement already in place in some parts of the state.

Brown did not announce any new water conservation rules. But he hinted that day might come soon if the rain does not.

“If I really think we need to go to 20 or 25 percent, don’t have any doubts – we’re gonna increasingly control the use of water to the point where you have to get a lot more efficient,” he told reporters at a Capitol news conference Thursday backed by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. “It’s gonna be expensive and everybody’s got to do their part – and they will.”

In the meantime, Brown announced a new billion-dollar drought package – with money for water recycling, desalination, water quality and flood protection projects. The governor negotiated the legislation only with Democratic leaders. Republicans signaled their support too, but said this package isn’t enough.

“I’m calling on the state water agencies, on state government, to get projects out of the red tape; to get them moving, because they’ve been hung up for decades,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto).

In fact, the governor’s office acknowledged that the state has spent just $470 million of last year’s $870 million dollars of emergency drought funding. Brown said there’s a limit to how fast state agencies can work.

Lawmakers hope to approve this year's drought aid before they start their spring break in a week.