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State Senate pursues $550 million drought-relief package

An attempt to quickly tap $550 million in voter-approved funds for local drought relief projects across California has been crafted in the state Senate and could be released as soon as Monday.

Among those pushing the proposal by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, are Sonoma County officials, although the amount of funding available for local projects was not immediately known.

“I’m very appreciative, as both a director of the water district and a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. We know we need to act with haste,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, board chairman.

The goal “is additional flexibility at the local level to act quickly and provide immediate relief,” he added.

Gov. Jerry Brown included money for drought relief in his 2014-15 state budget but didn’t spell it out. The Senate uses that money to fund its proposal, which will be in the form of an urgency bill that will take effect immediately if approved in two-thirds votes. Democrats have two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

Senate leaders hope to have the bill through both houses and on Brown’s desk by the end of February.

A draft of the Senate proposal, which lists only broad categories, says the money would go to an array of projects, including $200 million to increase local supplies, assure safe drinking water and ease drought-linked environmental damage. Details of how the funding is distributed won’t be known until the measure is heard by committees.

It also would include $50 million for “multi-benefit flood management projects,” $20 million for improved water efficiency, $20 million for agricultural and residential efficiencies and $8 million targeting drought conditions in wetlands, flood plains and wildlife areas.

Other projects include capturing storm water, recycling and groundwater banking.

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