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Gov. Jerry Brown signs $1 billion water spending plan for drought-stricken California

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SACRAMENTO, California — Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday that speeds up $1 billion in water infrastructure spending amid the worst drought in a generation, although much of the plan was drawn with future dry years in mind.

"This funding is just one piece of a much larger effort to help those most impacted by the drought and prepare the state for an uncertain future," Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement. But he added that no area of the state has rain in the forecast "and every Californian must be doing their utmost to conserve water."

The bills he signed, AB91 and AB92, will offer some aid to residents hurt by the drought, but the vast majority is expedited spending on water infrastructure. The projects will take months or even years to make a difference in California's vast water delivery system, which is struggling under a fourth year of little snow and rain in the nation's most populous state.

Nearly two-thirds, or $660 million, of the water package goes to shore up flood protection structures to prevent mudslides and sudden storms from overtaking communities. Voters first approved this spending in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.

Another $267 million from a water measure approved at the ballot last year would help boost local water supplies. It would fund grants for water recycling programs and help small and poor cities provide drinking water by funding new wells and wastewater treatment facilities.

Lawmakers said they need to kick start water projects early, especially as fear mounts that California is in the middle of a long-term "megadrought."

"Part of it is about preparing for tomorrow and the continuing drought if it gets worse," Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said after the vote Thursday. "I hope this is not the new normal, but we need to act as if it is."

Republican lawmakers, who mostly supported the $1 billion plan, say the best way to deal with California's long-term water woes is by speeding up construction of reservoirs. Voters last year approved $2.7 billion for water storage as part of a sweeping bond measure, but the state won't start funding projects until 2017.

"We have to work together to expedite projects that will increase long term supply," said Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, a Modesto-area Republican.


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