In response to the unprecedented drought the State is facing in 2014, the California Legislature recently enacted emergency drought legislation. The two measures, SB 103 and SB 104, received bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly before being signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
The bills allocate substantial funds, approximately $687.4 million, to support drought relief in drought-afflicted communities throughout the State. The dispersion of more than $500 million in existing water bond funding will be expedited for local projects already planned or under way. Examples of these projects include improvement of storm water capture, expanded use of recycled water, enhanced groundwater management and recharge, and expanded water conservation. Other funds, including revenue from the AB 32 cap-and-trade auctions, will also be made available for drought-relief efforts through provisions in SB 103 and SB 104.
The bills include various other provisions beyond simple monetary relief. For example, sanctions have been enhanced for certain conduct, like illegal diversion of water, during drought years. The bills also direct the California Department of Public Health to adopt new groundwater replenishment regulations by July 1, 2014. This leaves only four months for the department to draft and adopt new regulations—a tall order for any agency engaging in rulemaking bound to impact many interests. And in California under current conditions, no topic is likely to be much more controversial than water supply. After all, in the West, water is what we fight over.