California governor unveils drought assistance plan

During California's worst drought on record, some farmers are using precious water to grow hay that is then shipped to China

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California politicians have announced a $687m (£412m) plan to provide immediate assistance to communities parched by an ongoing historic drought.

The proposal was put forward by state Democrats and California Governor Jerry Brown.

Most of the money, garnered from two previously voter-approved bonds, would go towards local water conservation.

California, the most populous US state, is facing one of the worst droughts in its history.

The proposal would put funds towards local water conservation and recycling efforts, including capturing storm water.

'Short-term help'

Under the plan, set to go to the state legislature, food assistance would also be provided to communities hard hit by the drought.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (left), California Governor Jerry Brown (centre) and Assembly Speaker John Perez appeared in Mather, California, on 19 February 2014 California Governor Jerry Brown (centre) announced the drought plan, which is opposed by state Republicans

Republicans have challenged the proposal, however, saying more focus must be placed on long-term water needs, including building more reservoirs.

"While short-term help is needed, Sacramento [the state capital] must also focus on a long-term water solution," Republicans Frank Bigelow and Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway wrote in a statement to US media.

The proposal comes just days after US President Barack Obama announced a major aid package for California.

More than $180m will be made available to help both ranchers who have lost livestock and communities suffering extreme hardship because of the lack of rain to grow crops.

The state has withered under less rain than at any point since 1850, with rivers at record lows and mountain snowpack - snow that melts over the coming months and provides water throughout the year - at only 20% of expected levels.

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