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After Two Years, Final Round Of Drought Aid Distributed

Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

Gov. Jerry Brown announces proposed emergency drought legislation in February 2014 with then-Assembly Speaker John Pérez and then-Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Katie Orr / Capital Public Radio

It turns out “emergency drought relief” can take up to two years to distribute. On Wednesday, California regulators awarded the final pieces of the $680 million drought aid package Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers approved in March 2014.

As the harshness of California’s drought first came into focus two years ago, the state’s leaders scrambled to respond. They put together a package that included emergency aid for farmers, farm workers and communities running out of drinking water.

But 80 percent of the money in what the governor called “emergency drought legislation” was for regional water management projects. And it took until now for the state to award the final $230 million to local agencies.

“It takes a frustratingly long period of time for the Department of Water Resources to process funds, to make sure our projects are built,” says Celeste Cantú with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority in Orange County. Her agency has received more than $100 million in Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) grants.

“I can understand (why it takes so long),“ Cantú says, noting that regulators have a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure money is not misspent - a fact the Department of Water Resources underscored on Wednesday when asked about the delay. “I used to work for the state. I can appreciate why it does. We wish it would go a little faster nevertheless.”

Cantú says it’s a misnomer to label any response to a water shortage “emergency drought relief.”

“Because if we want to do good work, it’s not under the terms of an emergency,“ she says. “You have to be much more thoughtful about it.”

Projects funded Wednesday include groundwater management, flood risk reduction, recycled water enhancements and ecosystem restoration.