GOP Senators Andreas Borgeas of the San Joaquin Valley and Jim Nielsen of the Sacramento Valley have introduced a bill to establish a water storage and conveyance fund. While the measure would not add any new money for such projects, the fund would earmark $2.6 billion for constructing Sites Reservoir and $685 million for fixing conveyance canals damaged by subsidence, if the budget allows.
“Without substantial new investments and commitments to capture, store and move water throughout the state, whole communities will be subject to water scarcity and farmers will be unable to produce adequate food supplies, threatening food and national security,” the lawmakers argue in an op-ed for CalMatters accompanying the measure.
Borgeas and Nielsen are encouraging the Legislature to fund these projects in the state budget through excess state tax revenues, which by law must be spent on either infrastructure or schools—or returned to taxpayers.
The lawmakers introduced the measure as proponents pulled a ballot initiative to fund water infrastructure projects using 2% of the state's annual tax fund. The drought is also threatening to deepen, as the snowpack drops below average following warm, dry weather.
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A monthly snow survey by the Department of Water Resources highlights the extreme weather whiplash that has become California’s modern hydrology. The statewide snowpack stands at 92% of average for this date, dropping from about 160% in late December, when a series of winter storms swept through the Sierra.
Along with a dry January, warm and sunny conditions at high elevations have led to substantial snow melt. The numbers will continue to fall over the next couple of weeks as dry conditions persist, according to UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.
“We are definitely still in a drought,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The variability of California weather proves that nothing is guaranteed.”