California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has proposed a $5.1-billion investment over four years for immediate drought response and long-term water investments, as he declared a state of emergency in 41 California counties, with 30% of the state population under a drought.

“Shoring up our water resilience, especially in small and disadvantaged communities, is imperative to safeguarding the future of our state in the face of devastating climate change impacts that are intensifying drought conditions and threatening our communities, the economy and the environment,” Newsom said in a press release.

“This package of bold investments will equip the state with the tools we need to tackle the drought emergency head-on while addressing long-standing water challenges and helping to secure vital and limited water supplies to sustain our state into the future,” he said.

Newsom expanded his April 21 drought emergency proclamation for Mendocino and Sonoma counties to include 39 others, including Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake Watershed counties. While Newsom has declared 41 of California 58 counties in drought, he has not yet issued a statewide drought declaration.

A warm April and May accelerated snowmelt in the Sacramento Feather and American River watersheds, which meant that more of the water seeped into dry soils, rather than into rivers and streams that fill the reservoirs. 

“Warming temperatures also prompted water diverters below the dams to withdraw their water much earlier and in greater volumes than typical, even in other recent critically dry years,” Newsom said, referring to an action that drastically reduced reservoir levels.

Funding Distribution

The proposed package would allocate $1.3 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure; $150 million for groundwater cleanup and water recycling projects; $300 million to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will improve water supply security, quality and reliability; $200 million for water-conveyance improvements to repair major water-delivery systems damaged by subsidence; and $500 million for multi-benefit land repurposing to provide long-term, flexible support for water users.

“From droughts, floods, catastrophic wildfires and sea-level rise, water managers are faced with growing challenges exasperated by climate change,” the Association of California Water Agencies said in a statement. “For these reasons, ACWA supports state funding for immediate drought relief and longer-term projects that will increase California’s water resilience.” 

Another $230 million will go to wildlife-corridor and fish-passage projects and $200 million for habitat restoration to support tidal wetland, floodplain and multi-benefit flood-risk reduction projects.

Remaining funds will be dedicated to the state’s water data infrastructure to improve forecasting, monitoring and assessment of hydrologic conditions, among other needs.