On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the California Senate and Assembly approved Assembly Bill 91 (“AB 91”) and Assembly Bill 92 (“AB 92”), both which are part of the Budget Act of 2015.  The legislation allocates $1 billion for emergency response to the state’s ongoing drought.  The drought is in its fourth year and Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought a state emergency in January 2014.

Among other spending measures, AB 91 allocates $15,560,000 for “maximizing water delivery and efficiency to key endangered species habitats,” $3,250,000 for drought emergency response measures through June 30, 2016, and $2 million to assist local communities in implementing emergency water supply projects.  Further, AB 91 apportions about $660 million to flood prevention projects in the state.  AB 91 passed in the Senate 35 to 1, and in the Assembly 74 to 0.

The accompanying bill, AB 92 was more controversial, passing 24 to 14 in the Senate, and 50 to 27 in the Assembly.  Primarily, Republicans were concerned about provisions authorizing fines for those who engage in unauthorized stream diversion or harm fish passage. Violators may be fined up to $8,000 per day, and each day that a violation continues without a good faith effort to cure constitutes a separate violation.  A major of goal of AB 92 is to combat illegal marijuana grows and water diversions related to the practice.

The Governor’s office reports that the “package will expedite bond funding to make the state more resilient to the disastrous effects of climate change and help ensure that all Californians have access to local water supplies.”  The legislation is awaiting final approval from Governor Brown.

By Mike Mills (michael.mills@stoel.com) and Shannon Morrissey.  Ms. Morrissey is a Law Clerk with Stoel Rives LLP and is not currently licensed to practice law in California.