Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown takes the long view on water

Battles over water rights, wet years flowing into dry ones, Jerry Brown gubernatorial tenures – in California, some storylines recur.

Brown highlighted his long experience with the state’s most contentious issue as he addressed a water policy conference at Stanford University on Monday morning. Voters will soon decide whether to authorize $7.5 billion in new borrowing for water projects via a water bond on the November ballot.

Half a century ago, Brown noted, voters narrowly passed another Proposition 1: a 1960 measure aiding the California State Water Project, a massive plumbing system now spanning the state. Brown has been stumping for the new water bond, calling it necessary to update the state’s aging water infrastructure.

“I am confident Proposition 1 will pass again,” Brown said. “Water is not only complicated,” he added. “It is long debated.”

Noting that the media has reported on his not aggressively campaigning for re-election or laying out an agenda for an unprecedented fourth term, Brown said that water would be a “major issue” over the next four years and argued that overarching water issues “don’t get solved with a glib TV ad.”

“This is really the work of a four-term governor,” Brown said. “You need your first couple of terms to set the table, make the proposal, and then your last couple of terms 30 years later to really carry the ball across the finish line.”

Part of that work could be pushing through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Brown’s proposal to dig two titanic tunnels beneath the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. His last attempt to solve the issue was thwarted when a referendum upended his effort to build the so-called peripheral canal.

Fixing the Delta “requires a more efficient conveyance, because we’re not getting the full use of the water that comes,” Brown said.

Environmentalists largely oppose the Delta tunnels given the repercussions for a vast, intricate and already strained ecosystem. When Brown first delved into water issues, he said, he had never encountered a tiny, threatened creature that has become a central player in disputes over the Delta.

“I’d never heard of the smelt in 1978,” Brown told his audience.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.