Governor Brown addresses ACWA convention, calling on California’s brain power and innovation to solve the state’s water issues, and touching on water conservation, almonds, and the tunnels, and more …
At the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) Spring Conference & Exhibition, held just last week in Sacramento, the lunch time speaker was Governor Jerry Brown. ACWA president John Coleman introduced the Governor, citing his leadership on the state’s pressing water issues, such as the drought, Proposition 1, and the landmark groundwater legislation.
The Governor was dressed casually for the address to the packed room of mostly public water agency officials, shunning a business jacket instead for a maroon v-neck sweater. His tone matched his manner of dress; it was casual, almost flippant at times. Mr. Coleman noted at the end of his introduction that the Governor had recently called for a mandatory 25% reduction in urban water use.
And with that, here is what Governor Jerry Brown had to say …
Thank you. I’m sure glad you’re the ones that have to carry all these restrictions and restraints forward. We just launch the missile, and then you particularize and talk to your neighbors and get them to do it, and I really want to thank you for that.
We do have a challenge; you know that. All of you know lots more about water than we here in Sacramento and you’re dealing with it. Just in this room, the diversity of what you’re dealing with is so great that it’s hard to generalize, and yet we do have to say, we do need to cut back 25%. That’s the goal; and then how does that play out from the Oregon border to the Mexican border with a lot of different consequences and impacts and variations. You’re on the front lines, you know that, and we’re here to back you up.
We worked on Proposition 1 together which had overwhelming support on the part of the people. And what is critical about that proposition was that it was embodied in the Water Action Plan; that was the whole context of the water bond. It wasn’t just things patched together to get some votes in the legislature, but rather it was the result of many discussions and debates and thinking through of what do we really need and what can we do over the next few years together. That’s what Proposition 1 has set in motion. Now, through the grants, and through the other things that it makes available, we’re going forward, and you’re very critical to that.
Water is something I asked everyone – I guess it was Mark Twain who said, ‘Wine is for drinking, and water is for fighting,’ and water law … I can remember my father when he was attorney general telling me all about the Arizona versus California case, the Supreme Court argument that was taking place there in the 50s, so I’ve been hearing about water most of my life. I’ve had the opportunity to deal with it as Governor these many years, and these things, it’s kind of déjà vu all over again, because we have the same kind of issues and debates, there they are.
[pullquote]We don’t stay the same. We have to change, and how we use water is not exempt from that constant evolutionary process.[/pullquote]
But California doesn’t sit still. I think we had about 24 million people when I was Governor. We had about 12 or 13 million when my father was Governor. Now we have about 39 million, so we have all these people, and we have 32 million vehicles going up the highways. … They’re burning up 332 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel, and all that is making a different kind of world and environment. Things are not staying the same, we know that.
California, if you go back in history – I think it’s very valuable to go look at what California was in the past. It’s good to understand what you’re neighborhood was in the past. And things are definitely changing. And with the number of people, the number of technologies and the impact, so what that means is we don’t stay the same. We have to change, and how we use water is not exempt from that constant evolutionary process.
I would just say this drought is very much a part of California’s past and future. We get droughts. And with climate change, it’s coming. I don’t know how many climate skeptics we have in this room; I imagine we have a certain number. But well over 97% of climate scientists all agree, and more particularly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, when they put out their fifth report, and when Stanford particularly and other universities advance their research, they all come up with California and the West here being very dry and being hot. So we’ve had droughts before, but now we have droughts and higher temperatures and therefore the ground is going to get drier and the forests are going to get drier and we’re going to have more fires. You all know that fire season is much, much longer than it used to be. I saw a statistic the other day, that California is 4 degrees warmer than the historic average, so things are changing, and we need to change. And this drought is the catalyst for that.
This is a place of incredible creativity. The most obvious example is Silicon Valley where the microprocessor was invented, Bob Noyce and other people right here in California, had the ability to reduce what required a large portion of this room to compute that now is done on a fraction of your fingernail, so we’re getting with less material, we’re getting more output and more work. That’s what we have to do. We have to learn how to extract more value with less material throughput. That’s the big picture, and water plays a role in that.
There are people who look at this say that there’s millions of acre-feet that could be saved and gathered from efficiency in the agricultural sector. There is 1.5 million acre-feet that we could get from recycling urban wastewater, and then stormwater, that’s another million acre-feet. Now, having calculated that is a long distance from actually making it happen, and all the issues and technologies and institutional constraints, but there is water usage that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. There are plenty of examples of recycling; Orange County has that big recycling plant that I visited, and we’re going to have to do more of that. And that’s going to take money, and this is a problem.
People don’t like to think about the fact that we have to invest in things. Even if you take, an analogous challenge, driving cars. I made a goal, for the next 15 years we cut our petroleum use 50%. Well what happens when we cut our petroleum, that means 50% less gas, 50% less gas tax, but the roads are still being driven on by electric cars or by highly efficient combustion cars, so how are we going to do that? We’re going to have to find a way to handle that.
[pullquote]Let’s say ok, let’s control almonds. Who is going to control almonds? How about broccoli? How about steaks? How about our whole life? So we have to have this balance between setting these goals so we can live with the resources we have, but having the maximum degree of individual liberty and diversity of decision making.[/pullquote]
Same thing with water. You may have 25% less water, but you still have the pipes, you still have the services, you get the technology – that’s the way life is, and we have to deal with that. When you have more people with more economic activity and more throughput, you have to get more efficient. And we are getting more efficient, a lot more efficient. In fact, we talk about making our toilets more efficient … I remember the first year, I signed a bill to make our toilets, the flush use less water. In fact when I was campaigning for president in Maryland in 1976, I used to talk about that. And people got very excited. I can’t remember why, but people looked at me – I don’t know if that’s where ‘Moonbeam’ came from or ‘small is beautiful,’ but I did say even then that we have to live more efficiently.
In fact, there was this metaphor that was used in those days: ‘Spaceship Earth’ – that’s where Moonbeam came from, but if you think of a spaceship – you probably don’t like to think of a spaceship. How did they do it, by the way. Every day you got to do it, and they’re in that little spaceship and they’re not coming down. I don’t think they put it out the door. That’s called recycling and reusing, so we’re on the spaceship, we just don’t know it. [laughter and applause]
There is no waste; everything is used. Everything goes somewhere. We didn’t know that. Before we thought, you just dump it. Now I remember once when I was a little kid, my mother wanted me to clean up all these old Christmas cards, so I just put them in a big bag in a cart and when and dumped them some place and thought that was the end of that. Well, the problem is they all had our address on them, [laughter] so I don’t’ know who called, but someone called my mother who was very embarrassed. So I had to go pick them up and find another way to dispose of it. So the point is there’s always a somewhere. We just can’t throw things away, we gotta use it, and that’s true of the water, and we’re doing that more and more.
People complain about almonds or something. OK. Well, what are we going to do? Take quicker showers so we can have more almonds, so people in Asia can have more almonds? Well, I got hammered on national television about this, but let’s say ok, let’s control almonds. Who is going to control almonds? We control almonds. How about broccoli? How about steaks? How about our whole life? So we have to have this balance between setting these goals so we can live with the resources we have, but having the maximum degree of individual liberty and diversity of decision making.
That’s exactly the way we’re doing the water. We’re setting some goals and we’re hopefully providing incentives through Proposition 1 and maybe other things – regulatory changes. You’ve got to build some things, and sometimes CEQA and other permit constraints slow it down; we’ve got to speed that up, and we have to work on all of it.
We’ve got to get water to people, but we’ve also got to realize that this is just not a plastic bubble that we live in. It’s a natural environment. We have a thin soil below that we walk on, we have a thin atmosphere, relatively thin above us, and how we handle that is how we do. We are embedded in this web of life. Some people say, ‘don’t worry about the fish, just worry about people. Well we do worry about people, but we have to take notice of the fact that in 1975 when I was Governor the first time, only 8% of the native fish were extinct or highly vulnerable. Today, it’s 31% and that’s going to keep climbing, so that’s an indicator that we’re stressing the system, and we’re going to have to design our way through all this to preserve the diversity of species, and to provide the basis of economic activity in the state, and that’s what we’re doing.
This stuff gets complicated. This Delta project that some people say is one of my pet projects – that’s not true. It’s a challenge; it’s needed to deal with California’s water. I’m here to deal with the problems that I’m given. I didn’t invent these problems. In fact, I’d be happy if there were no problems. [laughter] Of course, then you’d wonder why we pay a Governor if there were no problems, but these problems have been around a long time. This is Delta conveyance. Goodwin Knight was dealing with this. And so was my father. And so was I, back in the good old 70s. And we’re learning the same issues.
I asked my water man sitting over here, how many man hours and woman hours go into the Delta project? What he’d tell me – one million. OK, until you put a million hours into it, shut up. [laughter] Because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Or, maybe they just wasted their time. It’s government, they sit there, they play tiddlywinks or whatever the hell they do. No, these are serious people, and let’s assume they wasted a quarter of the time. They were on their cell phones. That’s still 750,000 man hours, that’s a lot of stuff. It’s tens of thousands of pages, so it’s complicated.
On this subject we do want to be thoughtful and see what’s going on here, and we’re not doing it just to have something to do. We have a lot to do, but we’re going this Delta project because for 50 years, people have been trying to figure out how do we deal with the fish, how do we deal with the conveyance of water, what’s the most efficient way to do it, and what protects all the different interests that we have to think about, so that’s why we’re doing it.
[pullquote]People have been writing the obituary for California for a long time. Many, many years. Look Magazine had an article, it said, ‘The bloom is off the rose; California is going down.’ And they’ve said it many times. But just look at where we are. … We are still a pace setter.[/pullquote]
All the things that I do here are because they are problems and we need to deal with them. And if I don’t deal with it, somebody else will have to. So I dealt with the Delta, and what happened? The next four governors weren’t able to deal with it. Schwarzenegger, sorry. He spent probably spent 500,000 hours – his people spent half the time [laughter] or maybe they were spending more time, I don’t know, but the point is, we have real issues, we have 38 million people, we have a gross domestic product of $2.2 trillion, we’re the seventh largest economic entity in the world, we have resources, and we have problems, and if these problems aren’t handled, they get worse and they don’t go away.
If I don’t handle this Delta project this time, I’ll just have to come back and run for governor forty years later, like I did this time [laughter] That might take some ‘judgalitcal’ (?) magic that I don’t think I possess … anyway, you can’t do this too many times, I got that, and we’re running out of time, so we’re getting serious, we’re going to make it happen, and we’re listening to people so there it is.
So, what more can I say here. I said we want to make it easier for you to build some things and all your diverse projects that you have to satisfy these water constraints, because if we’re going to do recycling of wastewater or capturing stormwater, we’re going to have to spend some money. And you have to have some ways of getting that money and we’re going to do our best to help you do that.
I think the big takeaway is that people have been writing the obituary for California for a long time. Many, many years. I remember reading, Look Magazine had an article, I think in 1965, it said, ‘The bloom is off the rose; California is going down.’ And they’ve said it many times. But just look at where we are. California, since the recovery started, from the bottom of the recession, we have done better in terms of economic growth and jobs than the national average. So we are still a pace setter.
When it comes to ideas, if you look at venture capital, where it goes, particularly in alternative energy, it’s coming to California – we’re getting about half of it. Look at Nobel prizes – we’re getting more than any other state by a factor of four, so this is a very inventive place. People come here.
In fact, I once talked to a guy in Silicon Valley, started three businesses. He’s from India. I say, why do you come to California, aren’t the taxes too high, the regulations too burdensome? He said, ‘No, I come here because there’s no place in the world that has as many smart people with as many smart people who know how to spend that smart money’ [laughter] and that’s what we’ve got. We have resources, and we have very talented people willing to try things and invent things.
[pullquote]It’s pretty hard to fail in politics and become a success, but I have proven you can do that, so I am just like an entrepreneur. Disruptive. Innovative. But still here. And still inventive.[/pullquote]
In fact, that’s another thing. You can fail. It’s pretty hard to fail in politics and become a success, but I have proven you can do that. [laughter] so I am just like an entrepreneur. Disruptive. Innovative. But still here. And still inventive.
So I just leave you one thought, and this is bad when you start quoting yourself, this is my little inauguration speech which I worked diligently on, but I quoted Edward O. Wilson who was a very famous naturalist biologist, actually he’s an expert on ants. That’s his big specialty, ants. By the way, the ants – their prospects look pretty good, by the way. They are not facing extinction. But he’s really a very wise person in terms of the species and biodiversity and habitat and all of that. Here’s what he had to say, I’m just going to read four lines and that will be all, so this is my parting take away message for you: ‘Surely one moral precept we can agree on is to stop destroying our birthplace, the only humanity will ever have. We are needlessly turning the gold – think of golden California – we’re needlessly turning the gold we inherited from our forebearers into straw, and for that, we will be despised by our descendants.’
But we’re not going to let that happen. In California, we’re dealing with water, we’re dealing with the problems of agriculture, we’re dealing with the problems in the Central Valley where people don’t have any clean water at all – we’re dealing with all the issues that face us. And the fact that they are a little troublesome is just a greater stimulus to our own wise response. And so I think we can all be grateful and be excited that we’re in a place, yes, with some really unique problems, but we got some great problem solvers, some real adventurers and inventors and good stewards of what we’ve all received, and my God we’re going to make it better from what it was. That’s my commitment.
Thank you very much.
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Maven’s Notebook remains only half-funded for the year.