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California lawmakers preparing $644 mln drought relief bill

Rory Carroll
Tuesday, 4 Feb 2014 | 9:21 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - California's senate leader is preparing a $644 million emergency drought relief bill designed to quickly fund shovel-ready projects to combat the state's severe water shortage, according to a draft of the bill.

The wide-ranging effort would fast-track water supply projects, speed up funding for expanded use of recycled water and stormwater capture projects, and better monitor and manage groundwater resources.

California is facing its worst drought in decades. State officials have said it is likely to force for the first time a complete cutoff this year in state-supplied water sold to 29 irrigation districts, public water agencies and municipalities up and down the state.

The draft calls for portions of the bill to go into effect by July 1, a quick timeline that highlights the urgency of the situation.

"Short of making it rain, I think this is the best that the governor and the legislature can do to get water to people who need it," said Steven Maviglio, a consultant working with environmental group NRDC.

Most of the money would come from voter-approved bonds, although at least $40 million would come from money raised from the sale of carbon permits as part of the state's cap-and-trade program.

Environmentalists said spending cap-and-trade revenue to make the state's water system more energy efficient would be a wise use of the money since 19 percent of electricity used in the state goes to heat, pump, move and treat water.

"With the close nexus between water and energy use in California, this will help create the greenhouse gas reductions and the broader environmental and economic benefits that we're looking for," said Erica Morehouse of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The three-page draft was circulated by environmentalists on Tuesday. A spokesman for Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, whose name is on the draft bill and who is leading the effort, declined to discuss the bill since it is the subject of ongoing negotiations.

Democratic Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency last month, a move that allows the parched state to seek federal aid. A Brown spokesman did not return a request for comment on the draft bill.

Democrats control a majority in both chambers of the California state legislature, making it easier for Brown to enact his agenda.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Peter Henderson and Mohammad Zargham)