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California drought plan stalls in state Senate as deadline looms

By Sharon Bernstein and Jennifer Chaussee

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A long-awaited plan to shore up California's drought-parched water supply stalled in the legislature on Monday, amid Republican complaints that the proposal does not do enough to send water to farms and cities in the state's breadbasket.

The proposal to sell $10.5 billion in bonds to pay for water projects has been bogged down in partisan bickering for months, as Democrats and Republicans fought over what projects to include, but its backer had thought as recently as last week that a deal was near.

"At some point, you need to stick to your word," Democratic state Senator Lois Wolk told Republican colleagues on the Senate floor on Monday. "You ask for things and you ... get what you want ... and it's time to say yes."

Lawmakers face a Thursday deadline to pass the bond proposal if it is to go on the November ballot. To pass, it must win support from two-thirds of the legislature, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and tax-averse California voters.

Both parties say they want to improve the state's water quality and shore up supply, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they believe this may be the only year that voters would be willing to support such measures, because most Californians are keenly aware of the impact of the drought.

Democrats dominate the legislature, but fall two votes short of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, where they must win Republican support to get the measure through.

The catch is that a Republican-backed measure is already on the ballot for November. That measure is described by both parties as full of pork, and is expected to be unpopular with voters.

Wolk's proposal would include three new reservoirs, underground water storage and environmental cleanup, among other projects.

But it avoids support for a controversial system of tunnels to divert water north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is located in Wolk's district and supplies water for 25 million people, and move it south.

Republican Senator Andy Vidak, who represents the state's San Joaquin Valley breadbasket, said he would not support the measure without a method for conveying water south. But Wolk has said that would lead voters to reject the bond.

Wolk's measure failed to gain enough support to pass on Monday, but lawmakers say they will bring it up again if they reach a deal.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Jennifer Chaussee; Editing by Eric Beech)

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