In the midst of yet another drought that threatens clean water, vulnerable fish species, and the state’s vast agricultural sector, Democrats in the California Senate unveiled a $3.4 billion plan on Thursday to prepare the state for a fresh catastrophe in the aftermath of a lethal and devastating pandemic.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the measure would exceed all of the state’s total expenditures during the last drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. This drought emerged after the Great Recession, as California faced multibillion-dollar budget deficits and failed to compensate for state services.
However, California is overflowing with cash this year, owing to the fact that the pandemic’s forecasted deficits did not materialize. So far, nine months into California’s fiscal year, the state has raised $16.7 billion higher in taxes than anticipated. Furthermore, the federal government has given the state $26 billion as part of a coronavirus aid program, providing broad discretion about how money is used.
Winter and early spring bring almost half of California’s rain and snow. However, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains is less than half of usual this year, and precipitation throughout the state is far below average.
The Senate budget would not provide funding for large programs such as the construction of modern lakes or the reconstruction of Central Valley canals. Instead, the funds will be used to supplement existing state infrastructure and services, preparing them for the harsh, humid months ahead.
Any additional expenditures will include approval by the Senate, Assembly, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration. Next month, Newsom will release an amended budget plan. On Wednesday, Assembly Democrats revised their “budget plan” to provide “increased spending” in areas such as “drought resiliency” and clean water. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said Thursday that he is looking forward to drafting a final proposal with Newsom and Senate representatives.
About $285 million will be invested to conserve fish and animals from the drought, with the state purchasing water from growers so that it can be restored to the Sacramento and San Joaquin river deltas, lowering salinity and rendering the water cleaner for fish. It will also invest resources to track fish, which would migrate up the state’s drought-stricken waterways to breed.
However, John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association, was concerned that the plan would not go far enough to protect the state’s threatened fish species.
“All the technology in the world so far is only delivering to us the best documented extinction of native species,” he said, referring to the delta smelt, a tiny fish native to California that some scientists believe is nearly extinct in the wild.
A third of the funds, or $1 billion, will be used to pay down the state’s outstanding debt of unpaid water bills, an issue created by the pandemic-induced economic decline. This funding is provided by the federal government as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief program signed by President Biden in March.
The remaining funds will come from a number of outlets, including state taxes.
A half-billion dollars will cover costs such as trucking emergency water into cisterns for remote towns, agricultural holding reservoirs, and installation to link smaller water supplies to larger ones to guarantee summer access to potable water.
About $75 million will be spent on items like satellite sensors and gauges to track snow and rain to help authorities decide how much water to hold in reservoirs. This funding provides $15 million to assist the state in better forecasting atmospheric rivers, which are long, thin bands of water vapor that form across the ocean and pass across the atmosphere.
This occurrence accounts for approximately 30% to 50% of annual precipitation on the West Coast of the United States, so understanding where and where it will occur will help authorities prepare how to catch and maintain the water, as well as properly control reservoirs.
About $500 million will go into items like incentives for developers and city officials to rebuild grassy lawns and medians with low- to no-water ecosystems. The funds will also be used to support farmers improve their irrigation systems to make them more effective.