Brown likely to try again with water plan, but prospects dim

During the campaign, Jerry Brown was fairly vague on what he would do as governor, especially on how he would resolve the state’s chronic budget problems.

“It will evolve,” one of Brown’s pet phrases from his first governorship, was the unspoken credo of the campaign for his second.

There was, however, a notable exception to Brown’s vagueness — water. He published a fairly specific policy paper on water, reflecting his own extensive experience with its complicated politics.

As governor three decades ago, Brown attempted to complete the State Water Plan that his father launched in the 1960s. The system that gathers water from as far north as Mount Shasta and transports it as far south as San Diego had — and still has — one troublesome choke point: the ­Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Water from reservoirs on the Sacramento River and its tributaries flows into the northern edge of the Delta. State and federal water systems draw it from the southern edge. Using the estuary as a conveyance befouls its
environment.

Brown endorsed water engineers’ solution, a “peripheral canal” that would carry water around the Delta. After much political maneuvering, he pushed it through the Legislature. But as written, the legislation alienated both environmental groups and San Joaquin farmers, who forged a strange-bedfellows alliance that persuaded voters to reject the plan in a 1982 referendum.

Ever since, California water policy has been stalemated. But last year, outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger forged a new political deal that promised both to repair the Delta and to stabilize water supplies, albeit without details, and included an $11.1 billion bond issue to finance provisions.

The bond issue was to have appeared on this month’s ballot, but sensing — probably correctly — that it would be rejected, the governor and the Legislature postponed it until 2012.

Brown’s plan endorses “a peripheral canal or tunnel” and generally supports the Schwarzenegger plan’s goals, but pointedly does not endorse the bond issue, which has been criticized for its pork-barrel aspects and its use of taxpayer-supported bonds to finance water projects, rather than user fees.

Brown’s plan says that “beneficiaries — or users — of water infrastructure projects should pay their share of the costs of those projects. The projects must be cost-effective and make long-term sense.”

Meanwhile, the huge Westlands Water District has pulled out of an effort to resolve the perennial peripheral canal debate called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, echoing the farmer-environmentalist alliance that killed Brown’s version 28 years ago.

The peripheral canal conflict and the delay in the bond issue imply that the entire Schwarzenegger plan may be collapsing. Brown might find water policy where he left it in 1983.

Dan Walters is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee.

Dan WaltersJerry BrownOp EdsOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

From left, California state Sen. Milton Marks, Sen. Nicholas Petris, Assemblyman John Knox and Save San Francisco Bay Association co-founders Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin and Kay Kerr watch Gov. Ronald Reagan sign the bill establishing the Bay Conservation and Development Commission as a permanent agency in 1969. (Courtesy Save The Bay)
Sixty years of Saving San Francisco Bay

Pioneering environmental group was started by three ladies on a mission

Temporary high-occupancy vehicle lanes will be added to sections of state Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 101, including Park Presidio Boulevard, to keep traffic flowing as The City reopens. <ins>(Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Transit and high-occupancy vehicle lanes coming to some of The City’s busiest streets

Changes intended to improve transit reliability as traffic increases with reopening

Tents filled up a safe camping site in a former parking lot at 180 Jones St. in the Tenderloin in June 2020.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Proposal for major expansion of safe sleeping sites gets cool reception in committee

Supervisor Mandelman calls for creation of more temporary shelter sites to get homeless off streets

A surplus of	mice on the Farallon Islands have caused banded burrowing owls to stay year round instead of migrating, longtime researchers say. <ins>(Courtesy Point Blue Conservation Science)</ins>
Farallon Islands researchers recommend eradicating mice

The Farallon Islands comprise three groups of small islands located nearly 30… Continue reading

Once we can come and go more freely, will people gather the way they did before COVID? <ins>(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner file photo)</ins>
What happens when the pandemic is over?

After experiencing initial excitement, I wonder just how much I’ll go out

Most Read