Governor Brown addresses ACWA conference, emphasizes that now is the time to get things done

“The only time you get anything done with water is when a Brown is governor. And there are no more Brown’s coming along so you better get it done.”

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown addressed attendees of the ACWA Spring Conference in a surprise appearance.  Here is what he had to say, in his own words:

Thank you very much.  I think you have more here than when I was here the last time, so maybe you have more problems or more solutions or you want more of something. Most people who come to Sacramento want more.  And if you add up all the mores we’re totally bankrupt so watch out. But we are here to do something and we want to do the right somethings and just the right amount. That’s where it takes a lot of wisdom because anybody who wants something gets a lobbyist and then they come around and we have to fight over it.”

But today, I want to talk to you about water. That’s a topic I’ve heard for most of my life. When I was in grammar school, my father became Attorney General in California and the great Arizona versus California water case was going on.  He was the lawyer then in the Supreme Court so I’ve been hearing about this as well as the water bond that barely passed in 1960.  A lot of people were focused on the Kennedy-Nixon race but I can tell you my father was focused on the water bond. That’s what he was interested in. It’s always close … Water is something you should never take for granted, but I think people do. They just turn the tap, expect it to be there.”

We’re in a very challenging situation and we’re getting more challenging. We’re a state that for 10,000 years never had more than 300,000 people. That’s as far as we can tell from the archeological record. That’s what the people who lived here for so much longer than we’ve lived here figured out how they could adapt and survive in the environment that we have – and they didn’t get over 300,000.”

Now we are about 40 million and we’ve got 32 million vehicles and the people are driving those vehicles about 335 billion miles every year. That’s a b as in billion. You know the sun of course is only 93 million miles away.  So Californians are driving a lot further than the distance between earth and the sun every year and that has impacts. It has impacts in the sense that people have to have food, they have to have jobs, they have to clean materials, they have to drink water and take showers, all the rest of it recreation.  Then of course there’s the other forms of life, the animals, the birds, the fish, the species and all that. So how we get along together? How do we make it?

Well we don’t make it in the way it used to be before the Europeans got here. We have to have constant engineering and constant investment.  And when you have more people it’s going to cost more money. … Where do we get the money for fixing our infrastructure? That’s about a $60 billion bill right now, $60 billion deferred maintenance. And then you have all the maintenance that we need on dams and storage projects and conveyances.”

So if you want to have 40 million people living in a place meant for 300,000, you need a lot of creativity, you need a lot of investment, and you need a lot of cooperation.   And you can’t say well we did it this way before because before we had far fewer people.  When I was born I think California had seven million people; when I was governor there was 24 million people, and now we’re at 40 million.”

Each person seems to want more. They drive their car more, they want houses bigger. It used to be after World War II people started building houses 700, 800, 900 square feet. That was a house for a family of four or five. In fact my niece is married to a guy that comes from a family of seven boys, mother and father, they had 1200 square feet and they got along. That was what things were. They did pretty well. They all went to college. They all did okay.  But now they want two and three times that and people with more money want even a lot more square feet. So, the more square feet the more material, the bigger garage, the more cars, and all the rest of it.”

All this is telling us is that we have a very high quality, highly sophisticated and technological environment that we’ve created and we have to keep it going.  I know when I fly over California I look at all these things that look like lakes but they’re really dams and all these channels that look like rivers or creeks but they’re really some kind of conveyance. It just strikes me of how engineered California is and therefore, we have to keep at it.”

Toward that goal, I set forth a California Water Action Plan with ten separate actions and we’re still following that. That’s the guideline, the roadmap to where we’re going.  Of course it involves conservation, it involves recycling of water we use, storm water, local conveyance, and local storage above and below ground. It involves lots of things. There’s no one fix. There’s not a flag we can pick it up and wave it.  A lot of people like to march around and like a flag just say stop or no or a little three or four word slogan, but we don’t have that luxury. Because we’re in this engineered environment we have to keep updating. And just to take one example, Oroville Dam, it’s costing hundreds of millions to make sure that it’s fixed after the spillway broke. …

I can tell you as someone who’s now arrived at my 80th birthday there’s a lot of things that need fixing. And some things can’t get fixed, sorry about that. So we have to grow up and realize we have to take care of things.  You have to fix things. If you don’t fix things they just get worse.”

We have a lot of challenges here with climate. There must be a handful of skeptics here about climate change, but only a handful I would assume. But, leaving that aside, if we look back in history in the middle ages they say there was a 150 year drought around 850 to 1000.  So just in natural variability we could have far more than that little five year drought that we had. That was pretty bad. We could have a 10 year drought, 15 year drought or longer. And if we have that, wow, then we’re going to be really challenged.  Then with climate change, the professors that I know, the real scientists that work on this are predicting the sea level rise could be as high as six feet or even higher depending upon how things work. A lot of this is very uncertain.”

“We’re in completely new territory. The human species has never embarked upon a journey with 7.2 billion going to nine or 10 million with all the accoutrements, technological and all the rest of it. So we’re stressing the system and that’s going to affect us.  First of all there’s variability that could be quite challenging, with the climate change affecting the sea level, the disruption of the storms, and the moisture – With the fires in Napa, the humidity got down to 3% or 4% and the winds were 100 miles an hour.  … A lot people have built their homes right in front of a blow torch. I mean the shape of the valley and the mountains are contoured in such a way that when things get going all it takes is a few years of dryness and then you get the temperature, there’s no moisture, and then it’s all kindling. We’re just living in a wood pile ready to explode when you get the various sources that ignite these fires. So, we have to deal with water, we have to preserve it, we have to invest in it and that’s the whole purpose of our Water Action Plan.”

The second thing that I want to mention aside within that larger plan of course is the Delta. The Delta’s deteriorating and we have to invest. We have to invest in habitat. We have to invest in flood control. We have to make sure that that whole system works.  It is in the decline right now, so we have to deal with that.  If we don’t, those levies they can break, salt water can intrude, and we have extreme storm events. So, there are a lot of things to do about that.

Now we have Cal Water Fix. The Water Fix is getting almost to the point where it’s ready to go. Just have a few permits that I’m sure will be given – they better be given by the end of in the next few months. Because I’m not leaving until Water Fix has all its permits.”  (laughter)

That’s another thing this thing was talked about in Goodwin Knight’s era. Most of you young people don’t even know who Goodwin Knight is. He was the governor after Warren and before my father. Anyway, there’s a book about my father, this would be in the 1950’s, and it said the Democrats and the legislature, what they did was they had this water plan ready to go but they delayed it, so Pat Brown could get the credit.  The author was a little critical of that, but I’m just revealing one of the secrets that you may not have heard before. In fact, I had not heard about it before either. I’m not sure I believe it. Even if I did believe it I mean, what else do you expect?

So anyway, they had been thinking about that and they had been talking about a conveyance. And this conveyance … When I first heard of the Peripheral Canal, I had a question from the CR club, well what do you do with the Peripheral Canal? I turned to my campaign manager said “What the hell is that?”  So anyway, but I, I won. That was 1974. Apparently all the people that ran against me are all dead now. (laughter) Just a footnote. I kind of like to enjoy my continuing existence. So I take a great deal of pleasure. Anyway, not that I want all of my adversaries to disappear, although most of them are. But that’s a whole other story.” (laughter)

So we did the Peripheral Canal, we had Republican votes, and it wasn’t all that controversial. But then we had a couple of farmers … they put up the $350,000. They put some TV ads, stuck a few environmentalists in the ad and they beat it by giving a big no vote in the north and not much, not a big enough yes vote in the south.  So there it was. And what happens when you vote no on something? Well, we’ve already pilot tested that.  I raise that question when people don’t like the gas tax they want to vote no, but Republicans say if you don’t what happens when you defeat something like that. Well we have an example.”

The example is the Peripheral Canal. After I left office, it was dead because of the referendum.  It killed it.  So then we did eight years under Deukmejian and he didn’t do anything. He didn’t want to take it on, because once you stigmatize it with one of these big defeats then everybody runs from it. So, Deukmejian didn’t do anything. Then Wilson comes along for eight years. He didn’t do anything about any kind of Peripheral Canal.  Then we had Davis. He didn’t do anything either.  Then we had Schwarzenegger and he started the ball rolling, and how long has it been going? For many years. So this is not even a Knight’s seven and half years or Arnold’s seven years. This thing’s been going on for decades and decades. And if it doesn’t get done, if it doesn’t get permitted, forget it, it will not be done. And the Delta will continue to deteriorate and you’re going to have not water reliability, you’re going to have water shortages. You’re going to have the lawsuits. You’re going to have all sorts of problems. It’s not good.”

We have a good elegant solution, and as I said the last time I was here that the environmental impact reports which there’s a million words. I told everybody if you haven’t read that – I did say shut up, but I’m not going to say that anymore. I just want to say it’s been well thought out.  This thing’s been really thought through. It’s been going through all the vetting that you could ever get.  And so that’s why it’s pretty crucial we get this Water Fix. It will increase the reliability for farms, for people, the north and the south.  I commend the water districts that have been so helpful, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Metropolitan Water District, and others throughout the state and others to come who have stepped up and said they want it.”

If you notice by the way, there hasn’t been all that much news over the last many years. I can tell you if I wasn’t pushing this thing, it wouldn’t be going anywhere.  And if it doesn’t make it this time, forget it. You will all be dead before it’s even thought of again. I know. You know things come and go and there’s a moment and politicians they learn when something looks unpopular they run the other way. If you don’t, you don’t stay in very long. But I have other ways. I have certain skills that enable me to survive even under adverse conditions.”

Water Fix, by the way, is the natural, it just goes into the ground and you don’t even see it. It flows naturally by gravity. It comes up the other side, gets in the Pat Brown Aqueduct and does all the good things from Livermore down to San Diego. So, what’s not to like? It’s good and we’re going to get it.”

Then we have drinking water.  You have to get clean drinking water; you have a million people that are challenged with pure drinking water. So we have a little drinking water fund. I noticed you had some postcards that say no, but don’t pay any attention to that. And if you don’t want to pay for it, the farmers will pay for it. You know what – the farmers have more votes than you so the likelihood of getting this thing is very high, so relax. But we need that water.

Then we go the underground with groundwater management.  That’s another important … I find the best part of this job is you can learn things.  Now with groundwater management, what you could learn there is everybody who knew anything about farming voted against it; everybody that didn’t know a damn thing because they lived in the city voted for it. Isn’t that strange? So Democrats pushed it, Republicans opposed it, and the rural Democrats opposed it but it still won. Now of course it’s being implemented … They’re making it work locally. That’s very important because we’ve gotta manage the groundwater, you can’t keep overdraft.”

In fact, our aqueduct, oh should I call it my father’s aqueduct since he has his name on it? By the way, I have nothing named after me. I don’t want anything.  I say you should never name anything after a live politician because you don’t know if they’ll get indicted. (laughter) So you have to wait until they’re dead, and then you can give them something if you want.”

But anyway, the aqueduct has a little bit of subsidence there. So the folks who are causing subsidence watch out because we don’t like that; that costs money. So we have to pay for that. But anyway, so we have to deal with our groundwater and that’s contentious and difficult.

All these are difficult. What also is difficult right now is that we are going to have some voluntary water agreements. You know the Water Board are putting out all these rules, if you want to fight that and everybody seems to like their fight, particularly the lawyers who get all the money, that will go on forever. But we’re right now engaged in serious discussion to try to figure out how to get the right stream flows and all the different arrangements to meet the demands of the habitat, other species and the rules. … I think we can get voluntary agreements even done a lot better a lot more quickly and a lot more protective of everybody’s rights. So I encourage the people who are a part of those discussions, don’t blow it because we’ve only got a short amount of time.”

You might say this is a threatening speech. Get stuff done. Voluntary water settlements are crucial. So if we get the water settlements, we make these investments in the habitat, we get the Water Fix, the locals do their part and they have a lot to do. And all the other things that locals can do still doesn’t negate the fact that we need to make sure that the old California water plan is working, and that’s the Water Fix and all the other things.”

Then we have $2.7 or $2.5 billion on storage, that’s been announced by the Water Commission. By the way the Water Commission is making their best call, not everyone will agree but it’s a pretty balanced commission and they’re trying to figure out what’s the public good’s aspect as the public investment and how to allocate it …

The only time you get anything done with water is when a Brown is governor. And there are no more Brown’s coming along so you better get it done.  January 7th I think is the time we sign off, so with that being the case, what a great year, what a great time. And I really appreciate working with you and getting to know some of the complexity of our whole water system. It is complex and it is a marvel. And it’s highly engineered and we’re going to have to do even more by way of investment.  There are very creative arrangements that we’re going to put together for both building things and managing things and working through all of the different north and south, all those rivalries. … “

So I know how it gets done, but I’m not going to tell you everything because you don’t want to know how it’s getting done. Remember that movie with Jack Nicholson – you don’t want to know. Remember that? Anyway, we’re getting it done for you.”

If you do your part, I’ll do my part, and California will continue as the most interesting innovative prosperous state with a reliable water supply and a decent respect for other species and habitat that makes our state so beautiful.”

Thank you very much.

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