At legislators’ prodding, Gov. Jerry Brown began loosening his tight fist by agreeing to spend $1.1 billion to combat the drought.
The question: What has taken so long?
In his initial budget proposal, Brown allocated a paltry $23 million from the $7.5 billion bond approved by voters in November to deal with the drought. That meager offering was dated in December, when there was hope the state would not face a fourth year of drought.
On this first day of spring, when the Sierra snowpack is little more than a snowpatch, California politicians, like the rest of us, are feeling parched, and so they took action.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon had been agitating for spending on immediate conservation steps, a laudable goal, and reached agreement with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins earlier this week. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff joined the Democrats at the news conference to announce the spending plan Thursday.
In a happy sign that the effort to deal with the drought remains bipartisan, Huff introduced Brown as California’s “great governor” before turning the microphone over to the Democrat. The governor proceeded to promise more measures as needed.
The spending plan includes $272 million from the $7.5 billion water bond. The projects seem attainable: installing low-use plumbing, improving recycling, and helping those farmers who have not yet installed up-to-date irrigation.
Another $44 million would be spent on emergency water and food aid, much of it intended for Central Valley towns where food bank use has spiked along with drought-related layoffs.
Another $660 million would be spent from a bond approved by voters in 2006 for flood control, nine years ago.
In 2006, state authorities declared that the $4.2 billion Proposition 1E bond would be used for “urgent projects to protect homes and lives across the state.” We cannot help but wonder how urgent the need was when officials are only now getting around to spending a significant chunk of the Proposition 1E money.
Whatever the urgency was in 2006, Brown and legislators seem eager to spend the $660 million now, though not because flooding is much of a threat during these dry times.
By terms of the 2006 bond, the state would lose the money if it fails to appropriate it by July 2016. Much of the flood control money would be spent in the Sacramento region. The work, officials reason, could help in a future drought.
The remainder of the $1.1 billion comes from a variety of sources, including $30 million in fees generated by the cap-and-trade program that are supposed to be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In this instance, cap-and-trade money will be used for local water conservation and rebate programs, metering and replacement of leaky water systems. All seem worthy measures, if tangential to the cap-and-trade goal of combating climate change.
No doubt, the $1.1 billion will help conserve the water we have, though the package seems cobbled together in a manner intended to suggest to the public that government is taking action. The real solution, however, would be a series of storms. No amount of money can make it rain.