Special to The Bee
By Huey D. Johnson
Published Sunday, Apr. 01, 2012
Click here to read online.
Once upon a time, when I was Gov. Jerry Brown’s Resources secretary, his office was all about the moon; now it’s narrow economics that have taken over. While the governor deserves being seen as a good leader with a tough fiscal burden, it is no excuse to let the environment go down the drain. Our precious resource assets include forests, parks, air and soil, to name a few factors that make California a world-class place to live. No issue is as important as water for the future of our state.
The governor’s failure to make appointments robs the public of progressive management of our resources. There is not even a director of Water Resources and there are far too many vacancies across numerous departments to list here. If Brown had a strong, informed environment adviser in his office he could catch up and complete all the appointments in two hours.
There are a number of issues showing decline. The Department of Parks is especially off kilter. The director, a Schwarzenegger appointment, is trying to turn over some public parkland to double the size of a golf course at Lake Tahoe. Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs is the likely developer.
What’s the huge issue threatening California’s future quality of life and survival? Water, of course, the basis of life. For a state that has been so progressive, the antiquated, corrupt water matters are unbelievable.
An environmental governor would keep these tenets close:
• You can’t manage what you don’t know.
• Don’t give things away before you know how much you own.
• When you know what you have, make sensible decisions.
So before we send more water south or any place, the governor’s first step is to get the information that’s needed – statewide.
Californians should be concerned by history’s examples of the collapse of desert nations over a lack of water planning. The end of the ancient Roman Empire is a start.
Tracking forward to today, the recent events in Egypt and other Arab Spring nations show that political leaders who ignore the limits of water and the impact of doubling populations lose. In Egypt, the revolution is too glibly seen as a youthful surge toward democracy, when water shortages led to grain shortages – which led to hunger and thirst.
Could the same thing happen to California? Yes. In addition to dire climate change predictions, there are already uncomfortable indicators of an unsteady future.
The former environmental Gov. Brown is following the same path. As with Egypt, California’s population has doubled since Brown was last governor, from 18 million in 1975 to 37 million now. Sacramento ignores population growth at our peril.
Here at home, rivers are drying out. But the politically powerful continue to get valuable public water for free. While that version of water management worked in his father’s time when we had lots of water, now is different. The new millions use water and millions more are coming. I believe we are out of water and desperately need to be able to manage what we have well.
Which brings me to the peripheral pipe. Some say “peripheral canal” and “conveyance,” but I prefer “pipe.” California’s governor should be aware that any leader who is behind the new peripheral pipe and its likely $30 billion cost – without knowing how much water can safely be involved or where it is – will in time be open to accusations of corruption. Here’s something to ponder: two of George W. Bush’s former top water experts are highly paid executives in the state’s largest water district, which is the primary backer of the peripheral pipe.
If Brown continues to avoid managing water, he should openly concede to special interests and name the peripheral pipe after a major donor from whom he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have gotten a lot of money. Stewart Resnick is a good choice. I suggest naming it with their initials, FRB, or better, the For Rent By Owner peripheral pipe. It’s reported that Resnick gave more than $350,000 to Gray Davis, a lot to Feinstein and thousands to Brown. Such contributions may be a reason to keep the taxpayers out of the debate.
I hope the governor stops cutting ribbons and catches up on the environment by getting the information we need to manage our resources. Otherwise the governor is reduced to being a waiter, ready for the boys in the back room to order another round. They run government, after all.