SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Driven to action by the state's historic drought, California lawmakers on Wednesday voted to place a $7.5 billion water plan before voters in November.
The measure marks the largest investment in decades in the state's water infrastructure and is designed to build reservoirs, clean up contaminated groundwater and promote water-saving technologies.
It replaces an existing water bond that was approved by a previous Legislature but was widely considered too costly and too bloated with pork-barrel projects to win favor with voters.
After weeks of difficult negotiations, the ballot measure sailed through both houses of the Legislature: 77-2 in the Assembly and 37-0 in the Senate. Republican Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks and Democrat Wesley Chesbro of Arcata cast the dissenting votes in the Assembly.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation, AB1471, shortly after the Legislature acted. Citing the overwhelming bipartisan support, the Democratic governor said he probably had never seen Democrats and Republicans so united in his lifetime.
"It's about water, it's about our future, it's about Californians coming together," Brown said.
The evening votes in the Assembly and Senate came after the Democratic governor and lawmakers from both parties were finally able to clear their main hurdle, a disagreement about how much money should be spent on new reservoirs and other storage projects.
A state with a population that exceeds 38 million and an agricultural industry that feeds the nation has been struggling to meet the increasing demands for water after three dry winters.
The push to revamp the 2009 ballot measure, which was $11.1 billion and had been delayed from statewide votes twice, gained momentum as the worst drought in a generation intensified throughout the state. It has forced farmers to fallow fields, led to double-digit unemployment in many rural areas, turned large expanses of reservoirs into mud flats and prompted local governments to mandate water-use restrictions and impose fines for water waste.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said water was something many Californians had previously taken for granted.
"The need is so great in California," he said, referring to the wide margin of support the spending measure enjoyed in the Legislature. "The time is now."
The relatively swift and overwhelming votes for passage in both houses of the Legislature were in contrast to the weeks of difficult negotiations to replace the existing and more costly water bond that already was on the November ballot.
Brown wanted a much smaller bond to attract voters and minimize state debt, while many Democratic lawmakers fought against money for reservoirs and sought strong environmental protections for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
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