CALIFORNIA: Brown highlights water challenges, climate in state speech

Debra Kahn, E&E reporter

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) used his annual State of the State speech today to address California’s ongoing water woes, as well as its progress on climate change.

While preaching an overall message of economic restraint, Brown highlighted the $7.5 billion bond approved by voters in 2014 for water infrastructure as “one of the bright spots in our contentious politics.” State agencies are currently debating the best way to spend the money.

“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,” he said.

He also urged an end to disputes over constrained supplies.

“Achieving balance between all the conflicting interests is not easy, but I pledge to you that I will listen and work patiently to achieve results that will stand the test of time,” he said. “Pitting fish against farmer misses the point and grossly distorts reality. Every one of us and every creature that dwells here form a complex system, which must be understood and respected — I would even say reverenced.”

While he didn’t mention one of his most controversial water proposals by name, the official transcript of the speech included a link to a new video making the case for his “California WaterFix” project. It proposes to build two tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to ease reliance on the crumbling levees that route water from Northern to Southern California, supplying 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland.

That raised the ire of local delta activists, who put out a statement against the project.

“The tunnels will destroy the sole source of drinking water for one million Delta residents, the physical environment and the state’s most magnificent fisheries and breathtaking habitat for birds on the Pacific flyway, not to mention the agricultural and related economies for an additional three million Delta area residents,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “The Delta tunnels will cost $17 billion before cost overruns and interest, and will not make any new water for California. Perhaps the governor should take his own advice and drop his bad Delta Tunnels plan.”

On climate, Brown highlighted last year’s passage of S.B. 350, a bill to raise the state’s share of renewable generation to 50 percent by 2030 and double the efficiency of existing buildings, as well as the state’s work on an international memorandum of understanding that commits signatories to lowering emissions to 2 tons per capita by 2050 (ClimateWire, Jan. 14). He also had sharp words for members of Congress who oppose action on climate.

“Incredibly — though last year was the hottest on record — there are still those, particularly in Washington, who are in denial,” he said. “But even the deniers can’t deny the carbon pollution that exists all over the world. It is causing serious injury and respiratory disease to people of all ages, but especially the young and very old.”