SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Fresh off recent victories securing billions of dollars in financing for his ambitious plan to reroute California’s water system, Gov. Jerry Brown offered a genial yet urgent reminder Thursday of the need to set the project on stable footing before he leaves office next year.
Although its financing is shaping up, the project still faces hurdles including securing more state permits and battling a constant spate of lawsuits from environmental groups who worry the project will harm fish ecosystems.
“If it doesn’t happen now, forget it — you will all be dead before it’s even thought of again,” Brown said in remarks to a conference of the state’s public water agencies. “I know because things come and go, and there’s a moment.”
Brown’s comments offered a rare moment of reflection for a governor who eschews the notion of a legacy at every turn. Brown, 80, leaves office in January after four terms as California governor, the first two from 1975-1983. His brief remarks were filled with references to California’s long quest to better transport water from north to south, a key focus during the governorship of his father, Pat Brown.
Brown’s father oversaw construction of a massive state water project in the 1950s and 1960s, the north-south delivery system that has grown outdated as the state’s population has ballooned.
Jerry Brown’s ambitious plan to build two 35-mile-long (56-kilometer) tunnels to divert water from the water-rich north to the drier south won a game-changing boost last month when a large Southern California water district voted to spend $11 billion on the project.
The backing from the Metropolitan Water District breathed new life into the $17 billion twin-tunnel plan, which had seemed all but dead.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District approved $650 million this week, and more votes are scheduled from the local water districts that are expected to finance the project. When completed, it would divert fresh water from the Sacramento River to the Central Valley and Southern California.
Brown vowed to spend his final eight months in office fighting to obtain the permits needed, including from the State Water Resources Control Board he oversees and the Delta Stewardship Council.
He ended his speech with a stern warning that drew laughter from the crowd.
“I encourage the people who are part of the discussions: Don’t blow it, we’ve only got a short amount of time. You might say this is a threatening speech,” he said. “Get stuff done.”