How California’s $687 million drought emergency legislation aligns with Summit

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(photo credit: Don DeBold)

Well, that didn’t take long. A little over a month after a drought emergency was declared in California—the official acknowledgment that California is facing one of its worst water crises in the last century—the governor signed two sweeping drought emergency bills this weekend, freeing up $687 million in state funds to support water relief efforts.

This fast-moving legislation was one of 11 drought-related policy decisions identified by the Summit in February as potential opportunities for the state to support communities struggling with water shortages—while also laying a foundation for more sustainable water use in California.

So, how’d state leaders do?

Not bad, actually. Not bad at all. Several key components of the drought legislation align closely with the Summit’s recommendations, in particular a $472.5 million grant program that will support local and regional water projects that increase reliability, recapture storm water, expand the use of recycled water, recharge groundwater storage, and strengthen water conservation.

In a February 25th letter to the governor and legislative leaders, the Summit encouraged policymakers to create a competitive grant program that would support regional water projects aiming to achieve “multiple benefits”—reducing fire danger, for example, while also improving water quality and assisting those Californians most impacted by the drought.

Allowing regions to compete for funds

The drought legislation has done something very similar, directing hundreds of millions of dollars in previously unallocated bond funds into an integrated regional water management grant program to be managed by the Department of Water Resources. The legislation also taps some money left over from Prop 1E (2006) to fund specific flood control projects. But the bulk of the new funds—$472.5 million—are left over from Proposition 84 (2006), a broader water bond with more flexible spending options.

The legislation directs nearly half ($200 million) of the Prop 84 dollars to a program aimed at achieving the “multiple benefits” detailed below. The rest of the funds ($272.5 million) will also go to an integrated regional water management grant program with undefined project specifications.

The Summit network will now consider how to assist the Department of Water Resources in distributing these funds to projects that will use it most efficiently. Details on the new sources of grant funding created in the drought legislation can be found below:

$200 million is being made available to the Department of Water Resources for integrated regional water management grants through “an expedited solicitation round” for projects that do at least one of the following:

  • Provide immediate regional drought preparedness’
  • Increase local water supply reliability and the delivery of safe drinking water
  • Assist water suppliers and regions to implement conservation programs and measures that are not locally cost-effective
  • Reduce water quality conflicts or ecosystem conflicts created by the drought.

The legislation also asks DWR to consult with the State Department of Public Health on “what emergency drinking water projects may be further expedited through these funds.”

$272.5 million is being made available to the Department of Water Resources for integrated regional water management grants. (The legislation provides no further detail on what those projects should look like.) $21.8 million of this total amount may be expended by the Department of Water Resources for projects submitted prior to the drought emergency.

The Summit is committed to helping the state look beyond the current drought crisis—and to ensuring state leaders take the right next steps to put all of the state’s regions on a path to sustainable economic vitality. The Summit will continue to monitor the implementation of the newly-signed drought legislation, as well as the ten other looming drought-related policy decisions identified in its February letter to the governor.


Justin Ewers

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