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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

California Gov.: Water Demand Outstrips Supply

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about the drought emergency gripping California. Brown says local water use restrictions will increase, but he will not impose statewide mandatory restrictions.

Gov. Brown also discusses the boom-and-bust nature of the state budget. He says he can only allocate extra money to worthwhile programs for childcare, redevelopment and aid to state universities if the money is available.

Brown is running for a historic fourth term in office.




It's HERE AND NOW. I'm Robin Young in Boston. Jeremy Hobson is out at the studios of NPR West in Culver City today and tomorrow. And Jeremy, it might break 30 here today. You?


I think it's probably going to be in the 70s again today, which is great from my perspective, Robin, but, of course, this state has had way too much of that hot weather, hot, dry weather over the past few years. A lot of the state remains in an extreme drought. And we want to talk about that now and much more with Governor Jerry Brown, who is joining us from the state capital, Sacramento. Governor, welcome to HERE AND NOW.

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: Well, thank you very much.

HOBSON: Well, you said when you declared a drought emergency in California that this is perhaps the worst drought this state has seen in 100 years. There has been some rain since then. How serious is it now?

BROWN: It's just as serious. And it's serious because there's not only a drought this year, but there are previous years that have been very dry. And the drawdown of water in our reservoirs, added to the lack of rainfall now really is quite devastating.

HOBSON: Well, why haven't you imposed mandatory water restrictions on Californians?

BROWN: Because we are very respectful of the principle of subsidiarity, and that principle says that primary responsibility is local, and the state is only there to provide a subsidiary backup function. Now, we are asking for widespread, serious water conservation. But we're letting locals craft their own particular pathway. But you can be sure that as we go down the road, we'll have mandatory programs in every part of the state.

HOBSON: State-imposed mandatory programs?

BROWN: Well, when you say state-imposed, we're here at headquarters, and there are 38-and-a-half million people. There are over 400 cities. California stretches from the Oregon border to the Mexican border. So we have to be somewhat humble when we issue thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots coming out of Sacramento, usually embodied in a rule, an executive order or some kind of a law.

We have to work and inspire those who are on the ground, capable of reacting and adapting to the conditions they face.

HOBSON: One of the things that experts on this topic have talked about when we've talked to them is the idea that perhaps people - especially in Southern California - ought to stop having front yards, backyards that they have to water. Do you think - not something that you would enforce, but do you think that it's a good idea, generally, for people who live in desert areas of the state to not have yards that they have to water?

BROWN: Well, you're hitting on something very important. How can people in the semi-arid deserts of Southern California expect people in the north to share water under conditions where water is used on lower-priority functions? It may well be that cactus and lizards take the place of rosebushes and lawns. It's not something we're going to issue a mandate today or in the next month, but over time, sooner rather than later, the uses of water are going to come under very careful scrutiny, and only the wisest uses of water will be permitted.

HOBSON: Governor, California has always been known as a model for the nation on a number of issues, and I wonder if there's something that California has done in response to the drought that the rest of us in other parts of the country should be learning from.

BROWN: Well, we're siting a significant desalinization plant in San Diego County. We have recycling of water plants in Orange County that are quite impressive. And we are committed to manage our water above and below the ground. And I'm focused on getting from where we are to where we need to be, and that's a lot more conservation, a real reuse of water and a management of water below the ground and above the ground in a very careful way.

HOBSON: Another big issue in California - and something that people have praised you for - is going from a $27 billion deficit to a budget surplus, largely because of increased taxes that you convinced Californians were needed when you were elected. But there have been cuts in services, as well. Now that you're back in the black, are there things still that Californians are going to have to live without that they had before the downturn and the financial crisis?

BROWN: Well, Californians had a number of things before the financial collapse they obviously couldn't afford. They were feeding off a bubble, and the bubble burst. So, yes, we cut programs. We can't afford some of the programs we had in the past, and we have to exercise a constant vigilance and fiscal discipline, and that's something I'm very strongly committed to.

HOBSON: Like, what program did you have in the past that you think just doesn't make sense in the future?

BROWN: Oh, I would say most of the programs we had made eminent good sense, but that doesn't mean we have the money to spend on them. No - there's a Latin saying: no man gives what he does not have. We had childcare programs. We had redevelopment aid to the university, many, many things, all areas that we want to continue state support, but only in light of the money that's available.

HOBSON: Well, you bring up the university system. Do you ever see a day in California when the universities, the state universities will once again be free for the top students in the state?

BROWN: Well, as a matter of fact, for a number of the students who come from lower-income families, they don't pay tuition. We've held tuition down three years, and...

HOBSON: But the tuition is still comparable to what you would pay at other schools.

BROWN: No, that's not true. U.C. is $12,000. Michigan is over $20,000. At our Cal State system, it's in the 5 to $6,000 range. And I want to keep that tuition as flat as possible. In order to do that, though, we just can't do a rain dance. We have to change and reduce the cost structure of how universities operate. And that is painful, but I believe there is potential yield in imaginative programming at the university that will allow the university to live with perhaps less than they all think they need.

HOBSON: I want to ask you about one other thing that you have called a priority for the future, and that is this high-speed rail line that you would like to be built. When do you think that I'll be able to take a high-speed train from L.A. up to San Francisco?

BROWN: Well, certainly, I hope in my lifetime. We're working at it. But I would call your attention to the Middle Ages, when working people would work on a cathedral through generations. It might take 150 years to build a magnificent cathedral. And at that point, they had the faith, they had the vision and they had the generational continuity to embark on great projects.

High-speed rail connecting the north of California to the south is a bold program, not at the status of a cathedral, but certainly one that takes intergenerational commitment and will link the diverse parts of California.

HOBSON: So I'm trying to decide whether I should take from that that it will happen in your lifetime, or within the next 150 years.

BROWN: Well, no, it depends on how long I live.


BROWN: I'll be 76 on April 7th, and I'm going to do everything in my human power to get this thing done so that I can ride it.

HOBSON: Governor Jerry Brown, of the state of California. Thanks so much for joining us.

BROWN: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

HOBSON: So, that is the view from Sacramento. And by the way, I also asked Governor Brown if he's running for president. He said simply no. Tomorrow, we will get the view from Los Angeles. We'll be speaking with the mayor of L.A., Eric Garcetti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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