Drought al­ter­ing gover­nor’s le­gacy

Mother Na­ture has trans­formed Gov. Brown’s goals for his last term

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Mege­rian

Gov. Brown didn’t in­tend to make his mark with wa­ter re­stric­tions, but na­ture had other plans.

SACRA­MENTO — Dur­ing the drive from the Capitol to Lake Ta­hoe this week, Gov. Jerry Brown could see the dam­age wrought by four years of drought. Rivers have turned to drib­bles, parched forests threaten to ig­nite with a fate­ful spark, and mead­ows where snow should be piled high are in­stead com­pletely bare.

When Brown stepped out of the car, he made his­tory by an­nounc­ing the first statewide manda­tory wa­ter re­stric­tions, order­ing Cal­i­for­ni­ans to slash their wa­ter use by 25%.

It wasn’t the way he in­tended to make his mark in his fi­nal term as gover­nor, but Mother Na­ture had other plans. With the drought en­ter­ing its fourth year and no re­lief in sight, his most crit­i­cal tasks will be ral­ly­ing Cal­i­for­ni­ans to con­serve wa­ter, nav­i­gat­ing the state’s frac­tious wa­ter pol­i­tics and pre­par­ing for what could be a much drier fu­ture in Amer­ica’s most pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural re­gion.

“It’s go­ing to re­quire ev­ery ounce and ev­ery mo­ment of his po­lit­i­cal at­ten­tion and his po­lit­i­cal skill,” said Sonoma State po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor David McCuan.

The gover­nor also is deal­ing with stark re­gional dif­fer­ences, and the drought threat­ens to in-

flame an ur­ban-ru­ral divide in Cal­i­for­nia. Con­ser­va­tion­ists have al­ready raised con­cerns that Brown isn’t do­ing enough to curb agri­cul­tural wa­ter use, which ac­counts for 80% of the state’s to­tal.

“This is not go­ing to be the kind of coali­tion that’s go­ing to be eas­ily built,” said Raphael J. So­nen­shein, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Pat Brown In­sti­tute of Public Af­fairs at Cal State L.A.

Brown has faced drought be­fore: There was a two-year dry spell in 1976 and 1977 when he was gover­nor the first time. But that lasted only half as long as the cur­rent drought, and it didn’t lead to the same manda­tory re­stric­tions on wa­ter use.

In ad­di­tion to those lim­its, Brown’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der in­cludes stricter en­force­ment and the re­moval of 50 mil­lion square feet of lawns.

“We’re in a his­toric drought, and that de­mands un­prece­dented ac­tion,” he told re­porters Wed­nes­day. “Peo­ple should re­al­ize we’re in a new era. The idea of your nice lit­tle green grass get­ting wa­ter ev­ery day — that’s go­ing to be a thing of the past.”

Brown is determined to man­age the drought while pur­su­ing other goals such as build­ing the bul­let train and ex­pand­ing re­new­able en­ergy gen­er­a­tion — “gov­ern­ment is not just one thing,” he said.

But there’s no doubt that he faces a heavy bur­den in the months and years ahead.

Mark Cowin, direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources, said ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were work­ing out de­tails with the gover­nor late into the night be­fore the an­nounce­ment.

Brown had asked res­i­dents last year to cut wa­ter use by 20%, but they con­sis­tently fell short even as the drought per­sisted. When Fe­bru­ary con­ser­va­tion statis­tics con­tin­ued to lag, of­fi­cials said, it drove home the need for a more re­stric­tive ap­proach.

In ad­di­tion, snow in the Sierra Ne­vada, which usu­ally pro­vides a third of Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter when it melts in the spring, has been nearly nonex­is­tent.

“Con­sid­er­ing the po­ten­tial for a fifth or sixth year of drought, we want to start pulling up the stick of the plane so we don’t have a crash land­ing,” Cowin said.

Brown will need Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ co­op­er­a­tion to save wa­ter, and it ap­pears that res­i­dents are in­creas­ingly aware of the drought’s toll.

A March sur­vey by the Public Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia showed that wa­ter is­sues have be­come as im­por­tant in vot­ers’ minds as jobs and the econ­omy.

Two-thirds of re­spon­dents said wa­ter sup­ply is a big prob­lem in their area and more should be done to re­spond to the drought.

“It’s been frus­trat­ing that it’s taken this long to get on the public’s radar,” said An­nie Not­thoff, direc­tor of Cal­i­for­nia ad­vo­cacy for the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil. “But now peo­ple are start­ing to see this is not busi­ness as usual.”

The gover­nor said Wed­nes­day that he’s try­ing to do his part by “turn­ing off that faucet a lit­tle quicker, get­ting out of the shower a lit­tle faster, not flush­ing the toi­let ev­ery time.”

Push­ing for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion is noth­ing new for Brown, who has railed against en­vi­ron­men­tal dan­gers through­out his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

He bat­tled Los An­ge­les smog in the 1970s, ran for pres­i­dent in 1980 by promis­ing to “pro­tect the Earth” and has since trav­eled the world to urge ac­tion on cli­mate change.

“He has al­ways said, right from the start, we have to pay at­ten­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts, that nat­u­ral re­sources are not un­lim­ited,” said Bruce Cain, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity. “Th­ese are Jerry Brown’s themes.”

Given Brown’s record, Cain said, the drought is “in his wheel­house.”

But Cain and other an­a­lysts warned that the prob­lem could quickly grow time­con­sum­ing and po­lit­i­cally treach­er­ous. Im­ple­ment­ing Brown’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der will re­quire new and ex­ten­sive reg­u­la­tions and care­ful mon­i­tor­ing of thou­sands of lo­cal wa­ter agen­cies to en­sure re­stric­tions are be­ing en­forced.

Even while Brown faces the short-term con­se­quences of the drought — in­clud­ing the po­ten­tial for bud­get-drain­ing wild­fires and de­creased agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion — he is pur­su­ing long-term projects that he says will strengthen Cal­i­for­nia’s highly en­gi­neered wa­ter sys­tems.

The most con­tro­ver­sial is his pro­posal to dig two mas­sive tun­nels un­der the Sacra­mento-San Joaquin River Delta to send wa­ter from North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to farms and cities that are far­ther south.

Richard Frank, direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Law and Pol­icy Cen­ter at UC Davis, said the is­sue re­mains “the sin­gle tough­est po­lit­i­cal nut to crack.”

“The sta­tus quo in the Delta is com­pletely un­sus­tain­able,” with aging canals and eco­log­i­cal dam­age, he said. “But the con­sen­sus re­ally ends there.”

Rich Pedroncelli As­so­ci­ated Press

AT ECHO SUM­MIT, Calif., Gov. Jerry Brown talks to re­porters about his new ex­ec­u­tive or­der that will re­quire cities and towns to cut wa­ter use by 25%. To ef­fec­tively man­age the drought, how­ever, he will need the sup­port of state law­mak­ers, agen­cies and res­i­dents.

John Malmin Los An­ge­les Times

GOV. JERRY BROWN, left, with L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley in 1977, has bat­tled drought — al­beit a shorter one — be­fore.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

PATCHY SNOW dots Glacier Point in Yosemite Na­tional Park, where Se­bas­tian Richer, 27, hikes. Cal­i­for­nia won’t see much wa­ter runoff from the snow­pack this year.

Len­nox McLen­don As­so­ci­ated Press

PUSH­ING for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion is noth­ing new for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has railed against en­vi­ron­men­tal dan­gers through­out his ca­reer. Above, he speaks about his ex­ec­u­tive or­der, left, and ap­pears on KNBC in 1977.

Randall Ben­ton Sacra­mento Bee

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