Governor Brown speaks at ACWA California Water 2.0 event about the Delta tunnels, drought, and climate change
It’s a very different world we live in, he says: “We can protect the natural systems, but we have to engineer our way forward”
This morning, Governor Brown spoke at the ACWA event, California Water 2.0: What’s ahead for the California Water Action Plan.
Here’s what he had to say:
Thank you very much. This topic, water, is always timely, always difficult, but profoundly important. I won’t expound too much on the California Water Action Plan. I’m just going to hold it up … you’re homework is to read it, if you haven’t already. This is a new updated version so you have to review it. It’s very important, it’s integrated, and there’s nothing quite like it ever in the history of California.
Our water development has been going on for many decades, but when we started (we meaning our predecessors), we didn’t really understand the complexity, the interrelationships of all the projects, and this interaction between nature, the natural systems, and then the built investments, the steel, the engineering, and the management of human beings in the context of this overarching natural systems. We have a much better understanding of how that all works.
We don’t fully understand even now, and that’s why when you look – you probably never have, but I have – I’ve looked at the environmental impact report for the Delta project and it would fill two stacks at this table, and why is that? Because the uncertainty, the unknowns, the complexity of what we’re doing is such that literally you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of hours studying the various implications.
Now if you go backwards to when we built many of our dams and conveyance projects, canals, and causeways, no one had read those tens of thousands of pages because they didn’t exist yet. But they reflect a very thoughtful examination of the California environment, and what impacts there are and what we’re trying to do.
So the main point I make is that we’re learning more; we know a great deal more. We’ve had some really smart people, scientists, engineers, people who work in public policy and the fruit of all that, as best we can make it, is the 2016 update of the California Water Action Plan, so I hope that you’ll be able to deal with it.
Of course when dealing with water, it is controversial. Water wars is a metaphor we often hear and they were real in the past and they continue in some way. Water is life and it’s also economy, it’s the basis of so many living things and living systems, so it’s quite challenging.
I like to put this in the broader context – that we now have 39 million people, and as best I understand it, there was a fraction of that many who lived in California for more than 10,000 years and so that number was what the norm was until the Spanish colonists came this way, and then after them, the Gold Rush and all the rest.
Now we have not only 39 million people, but we have 32 million vehicles, and the 32 million vehicles are driven 332 billion miles and to make those cars go 332 billion miles requires 18 billion gallons – 14 billion gallons of gasoline and 4 billion gallons of diesel. That doesn’t just disappear. It is emitted into the environment, creating greenhouse gases, and it generates a various criteria of pollutants that affect our lungs, they affect our crop productivity and all sorts of things. So you can’t deny that we humans are having an impact. A big impact. And climate change is one of them.
Now I now when I say that, more than 90% of Republican elected officials deny there is such a thing as climate change. So that’s a problem, because we can’t get anything done with just half the people, without involving all partisan and all ideological perspectives, so we have to keep studying, keep thinking, and keep reflecting.
But I will make the claim backed up by real science that human beings are having a huge impact on the world, on California, on our water resources, on our life, wildlife, habitat, and all the rest, so we have to learn to live in this very interrelated, interdependent kind of world. It’s a very different world. If you look out at the big world, there’s 7.3 billion people. That’s a lot different. I remember when I was a young Jesuit novice in Los Gatos, we could look over the hill and see the cars going by, and I remember the conversation, how many people are there in the world? There was somewhat less than 2.5 billion, and we were talking about that, and that was the 50s. Now we’re up to 7.3, and we’re probably going to go 9 billion, maybe higher, so when we have that many people, it’s a different world than when you had far fewer.
That general truth is very applicable here to California in that we have to manage, otherwise we get issues. Just like today. Today it will be raining, there will be more water, but because the fish like to swim around where the pumps are and because we have biological opinions and various laws to protect species, those pumps will not operate at full capacity. That’s the reason why we want to change the very outdated infrastructure of the whole Delta system. It was built before we knew so much of what we know today.
What we know today is that we have to draw the water out further north on the Sacramento River, and if we build the conveyance correctly and if we manage it with all values kept in mind, that we can produce more water reliably and the whole system will work better, for people, farmers, and fish. If we don’t get that, then the water wars will continue and some side or other may get an advantage, but then there will be lawsuits, there will be initiatives, and this will go on in a negative way beyond the life of probably half the people in this room, or maybe more. The answer is to work together to get projects that work for everyone.
Now luckily, things have been happening the last few years. Things have been happening in nature, – we’ve had the worst drought, the longest drought, the impact on the snowpack and the drying of the soil and the vegetation, the increase in forest fires, and all this is big, it’s expensive, and it’s cost lives, and it’s changing our landscape. In the face of all that, the legislature with one Democratic person voting no, everybody else – Republican, Democrat voting yes, we got the bond issue. The people voted for it, and already we have appropriated and committed over $4 billion, and in the budget, we’re looking at $900 million more. We’re doing stuff.
Californians have really responded in terms of conservation – 25% most months. Extraordinary. So we’re doing extraordinary work and the point that we have to keep in mind is that it’s not one thing. Water recycling alone won’t do it. Storage alone won’t do it. Conveyance alone won’t do it. Capturing stormwater won’t do it. Desalination won’t do it. We need all of it, and we need all of it in a very sophisticated careful way, and that’s what my goal is.
We have two very different perspectives. One is, there is no nature, don’t worry about other species, we’re king, just full speed ahead and just exploit to the max. The other side, I’m characterizing but only somewhat, is let all go, we’ve screwed it all up, let’s let it go back to nature, we don’t need any of these projects. Of course if you did that, tens of millions of people couldn’t continue to be here in California.
We have highly engineered California, we know that. Get in a plane, fly over, you see causeways and storage facilities and the great California Aqueduct, all sorts of things, and all over. By the way, some people don’t know that it’s connected. I would say most people in Santa Clara don’t know that more than 40% of their water comes from the Delta, and if that thing goes because of climate change or earthquake, with massive sea water intrusion – that’s the Silicon Valley, Santa Clara. The city of Livermore, that nice northern California city, it gets 80% of its water, and that depends on how we manage this challenge of storage, conveyance, recycling, reuse, and all the other things that we’re doing. So we’re very interdependent. It’s not one thing, it’s all of this together very thoughtfully put together.
We have to recognize the reality that climate is changing. It’s changing and for those of you who don’t believe that, well then, that will make all our work a lot harder, because I think the science is absolutely overwhelming. Going forward, we have a lot to do, because when you talk about $4 billion, that’s a lot of projects, that’s a lot of people, and that’s a lot of opportunities to make mistakes. It does take a certain amount of understanding, and collaboration and feeling a sense that we’re all in it together.
People in the Sacramento Valley, they distribute water, they sell water, and you need facilities to make that all happen. People in Orange County want to recycle water – they can’t get the water unless it comes, some of it comes from Northern California through the Aqueduct and that requires conveyance and storage. San Diego built a reservoir – they can’t fill that up without getting ultimately in part from the snowpack of the Sierra, so it’s one state. We are much stronger if we work together.
We can protect the natural systems, and we can do so, but we have to engineer our way forward because that’s the way it is. This land was used to 300,000-400,000 people; now we have 39 million. And we’re not running around with simple lifestyle, as it was for 10,000 years. We have all this impact – equipment, trucks, cars, all this stuff that makes life, getting you all to come here and for us to have this meeting, but there’s implications for that. The implication is that we have to engineer, we have to build, and we have to use in a very careful thoughtful way. That really is the purpose of the $7.5 billion bond, it’s the purpose of the California Water Action Plan.
You people are on the front lines and I really appreciate that. For the most part people have ignored water, and they did it because it’s controversial. Once they voted down that peripheral canal that Duekmejian, Wilson, Davis – ‘I’m not talking about that.’ You’ll find a lot of politicians today that say, ‘let’s stay away from that.’ It’s vital to meet the problems and to start providing the solutions. Our Water Action Plan has that balanced set of solutions where we both build, we do storage, and we do groundwater management – that bill was an amazing and fundamental achievement where we can manage our groundwater properly in California and all of that, so we’re making real progress.
We’ve got some tough tests ahead, but I’m committed to seeing it through. That’s my goal, and I do believe I feel strongly about the environment and wildlife, whether in the water or on the mountains, the trees, the vegetation – we have to respect that. We are a part of; we’re not just the only species, and we have to understand our dependence. And our interdependence.
That’s also true politically. We have to work together in all these different ways, so that’s what it’s all about. It’s very exciting. California is a wealthy place, but that wealth depends in many respects, maybe in all respects, on respecting the natural systems and what they require.
I like to think of that word, economics, comes from Greek. Eco nomics, which means the rules of the house, the big house – that’s our big environment and big economy. There’s another word called ecology. That is a similar word. Eco the house, but it’s logos, the logos of the house, so we have the rules and we have the logos. The logos is something more grand – logos refers to God in the New Testament, it’s spirit, it’s word, it’s thought, it’s idea, so we have to be thoughtful and we have to understand the economy does not encompass the ecology, but rather the ecology, it encompasses the economy.
We’re all part of nature, but we’re manipulating, we’re managing nature, but we have to do it within the rules as they are immutable. So that’s our project here, and we say to those who say, ‘don’t build, don’t do anything,’ no – we have built, it’s outdated, and now we got to fix things and make it all work. To those who say, ‘forget the fish,’ no – the fish are part of God’s creation as are we, and we all have to make it work and we can make it work. It can work if we do all of the above, if we realize our interdependence, our interdependence north and south, east and west, but also past and future.
Our forebearers came here in a very different California; they came in a pioneering spirit and now we have to continue and make sure over the decades and centuries, we maintain this incredible magical place called California. The name itself is rather mysterious, people argue about its origin, but it certainly connotes a world of wonders. Our water projects and our environmental responsibility are wondrous indeed, and you are going to have to a lot of the work to make it all work, so thank you very much.
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