To a casual listener, Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State speech Thursday was minimalist if not prosaic. But there were fightin’ words for those who knew where to listen and look.
Speaking to elected officials in the Assembly chambers and a gallery filled with dignitaries, Brown recited his many big accomplishments, including balancing the budget and expanding health care. He cautioned against exuberance and urged focus on improving infrastructure. Move along. Nothing to see here.
But at 77, having given his first State of the State speech 41 years ago, Brown is nothing if not clever.
As printed, the 2,400-word speech included only passing mention of his big task at hand, persuading Californians that the state must confront the water crisis by constructing two $15 billion tunnels to move water past the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Those who drifted or didn’t get a CD extra tucked into the press kit might’ve missed this:
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“We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture stormwater, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies – including desalination – and all the while recognize that there are some limits.”
The operative words in that passage are “reliable conveyance.” And, interestingly, those two words contain the sole hyperlink in the speech posted on the governor’s website, a link to a slick YouTube video that, coincidentally, posted Thursday.
That video is all about what Brown sees as the most important task at hand: improving California’s water delivery system by building the twin tunnels. It at once describes and disparages the current state and federal water systems, which rely on huge pumps that kill fish and degrade the environment.
The video then tells how the new conveyance – “pipes,” not tunnels – would be “natural,” in that it would depend on gravity to move water past the Delta. The Sacramento Bee editorial board has not yet taken a position on whether the state needs the tunnels, but “natural” doesn’t exactly describe them. The $15.5 billion California WaterFix would entail a tunneling project 30 miles long, with two pipes that would be 40 feet in diameter.
Several experts have said 2016 will be pivotal for the future of the water project. Do-or-die decisions must be made in the coming months if it is to proceed.
We understand why the governor would downplay his plans. Any project that costs $15.5 billion and involves the Delta is controversial, and he doesn’t believe he needs specific legislative approval for it.
Still, the video should be considered a soft launch to a coming campaign of public persuasion – one that will have to get more direct if it is to be successful. Fightin’ words about water in California don’t stay buried long.