The Story of California Water, According to Jerry Brown

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Gov. Jerry Brown. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown was invited to speak Monday at a Stanford symposium on the future of U.S. water policy. Brown, running for his fourth term as governor, used his appearance at The Hamilton Project conference to give a sort of oral history of California water -- which is, in a sense, a Brown family story -- and to make a pitch for Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion bond measure on the November ballot.

The audio is embedded above. Chris Austin at Maven's Notebook has a transcript of the talk.

Here's one notable passage:

I can promise you the next four years water is a key issue and we’re going to build on the great work of Earl Warren and Pat Brown and Governor Schwarzenegger and I might even say, my first couple of terms. It will be controversial; the issues have not been fully resolved, but like energy and climate change that have been contentious but also led to very productive initiatives, the same will be true of water. It will be something that I’m going to put front and center.

Since I haven’t been doing a lot of campaigning, there has been some question in the press – ‘Will there by anything done in the next four years? We don’t know, We haven’t heard.’ Well, you’re hearing today. Water is going to be a major issue that will be addressed in the California legislature, in Congress, and throughout communities everywhere because water doesn’t get solved in one office or in one place. Water issues are handled by a multitude of local agencies, they are handled by state rules and institutions, and also by the federal government, so it’s a complicated interplay of governmental jurisdictions at every level.

Brown also alluded to past and present struggles to improve the water system's plumbing of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.


Voters in 1982 rejected his plan to build a Peripheral Canal through the Delta to ease the shipment of water from Northern California to Southern California. Brown now supports an updated version of the canal -- twin tunnels beneath the Delta. He and other tunnel backers say the tunnels would solve some of the challenges in moving water south and do a better job of protecting the Delta ecosystem and imperiled wildlife.

Polls have shown strong support for Proposition 1, which does not include funding for tunnel-related projects. But the tunnels themselves, which could carry a price tag of $25 billion or more, have faced strong resistance in the Delta and from a wide spectrum of environmental groups.

Brown's Republican opponent for governor, Neel Kashkari, has endorsed Proposition 1 but he has repeatedly said the state needs to invest in more dams and storage.

In an email to the Associated Press after Brown's remarks at Stanford, Kashkari said: "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."