California has unveiled a $687 million relief plan aimed at helping the US state overcome the effects of the worst drought in recorded history.
Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal is designed to fund a clean-up of drinking water supplies, improve water conservation and make irrigation systems more efficient. Penalties for the illegal diversion of water supplies would also be increased.
The plan would make provision for emergency food and shelter for agricultural workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the effect the drought has had on the industry.
Last month, Governor Brown declared a drought emergency and called on consumers to cut their water consumption by 20%.
Agriculture remains a major contributor to the US’s most populous state’s economy. It is worth an estimated $37 billion each year. California is the world’s fifth largest supplier of food and agricultural commodities.
Visiting the San Joaquin Valley last week, President Barack Obama pledged $160 million in federal assistance to farmers.
Mr Obama linked the drought to climate change, saying that unless carbon pollution was curtailed such dry spells would grow more severe.
2013 was the driest year on record across California and 2014 continues that trend with most places recording their driest ever January. Temperatures were also well above average, breaking records set back in 1976.
Until recently the snow pack across the Sierra Nevada mountains, which supplies the bulk of the state’s drinking water, stood at just 15% of the long-term average. Despite significant snowfall in recent days, this deficit is likely to have a significant impact on water availability in the coming month.
The drought across the western side of the US is believed to be a result of the displacement of the jet stream which has, in turn, brought one of the coldest winters on record to many central and eastern parts of the US.