SACRAMENTO (AP) — Addressing California’s longstanding water problems will take tens of billions of dollars more and a large dose of political compromise, but the epic drought may provide new motivation, Gov. Jerry Brown told a Stanford University water conference on Monday.
“Water is going to be a major issue that will be addressed in the California Legislature and in Congress, and throughout communities everywhere, because water doesn’t get solved by one person or in one place,” he said.
Still, the Democratic governor said he intends to serve as leader on the issue if he is re-elected in November, telling the crowd that the state’s drought, now entering its fourth year, is too complex for a less experienced governor to tackle. He said his work began when he was governor the first time, from 1975 to 1983, which also happened to be during the state’s last major drought.
Voters in 1982 rejected his plan to build a peripheral canal through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to ship water from Northern California to Southern California.
Monday’s event also gave Brown an opportunity to promote a November ballot initiative, Proposition 1, which would authorize $7.5 billion for water infrastructure projects and conservation. But he said that will not be nearly enough to address the long-term water challenges, which will require “tens of billions of dollars invested over the next 10 to 20 years.”
While polls show support for the bipartisan ballot measure, Brown’s new $25 billion plan to build twin tunnels underneath the Delta has faced intense opposition. The project is intended to make it easier to pump water from the Sacramento River to Central Valley farms and Southern California cities, while guarding against the effects of a levee collapse during a major earthquake.
Brown’s Republican opponent for governor, Neel Kashkari, opposes the tunnel plan but has not offered an alternative. He has endorsed Proposition 1 but he has repeatedly said the state needs to invest in more dams and storage.
“Instead of preparing the state for certain drought, Gov. Brown waited until the state’s worst drought in history forced communities to literally run out of water before being nudged into a water bond that only provides $2.7 billion towards water storage,” Kashkari said in an email.
The Brown administration’s 10-point water goals include promoting conservation, restoring ecosystems, expanding storage capacity, improving groundwater management, increasing flood protection and making regulations more efficient.
Brown’s father, former Gov. Pat Brown, built the State Water Project, an extensive system of reservoirs and canals that was considered an engineering marvel in its day. But the system was built for a state with a population of half the current 38 million.