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California officials call for $500 billion investments in water projects in coming decades

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SAN FRANCISCO — California's growing population and dwindling water require up to $500 billion in additional investment in water in coming decades, and new state fees for water users could be one way pay for it, a water plan released Thursday by the state's top water officials said.

John Laird, California secretary of natural resources, and Mark Cowin, head of the water resources department, spoke to reporters via telephone to mark the release of the plan, the latest update in more than a half-century of outlines for managing California's water.

The plan looks as far ahead as 2050, spanning a period when California will be dealing with everything from shrinking snowpack, rising seas and encroaching salinity in waterways to more frequent droughts under climate change.

The plan envisions growing cities increasingly taking more water, farmers using less, and water costing more in general. It shouldn't be a surprise, Cowin said, that water is going to cost more for Californians in the future.

Broadly, the plan calls for greater coordination among state, federal and local agencies that make decisions affecting water supplies, for streamlining government decision-making on water issues, and for greater investment, including conservation and storage.

Currently, governments spend about $20 billion annually on California's water supply, or $200 billion over 10 years, said Kamyar Guivetchi, head of integrated water management for the Department of Water Resources.

State officials are calling for another $500 billion in coming decades. That includes $100 billion in flood-control projects and $400 billion to fund a wide range of projects proposed by different regions of the state, Guivetchi said.

State officials gave almost no details Thursday on specific projects. The written plan, however, includes an existing, $25 billion proposal backed by Gov. Jerry Brown to build two, 30-mile tunnels to divert part of the Sacramento River for use by water agencies.

Brown's administration left the controversial tunnel project out of a $7.5 billion water bond proposal going before state voters on Tuesday.

The water plan released Thursday emphasizes securing more stable funding for water projects. It suggests an unspecified state water fee on water users as one possible source of additional funding.

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