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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.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • dialyn

    Would love that someone would ask him how he intends to deal with the poisoning of the water system by fracking, and the potential of disruption of water supplies by earthquakes that fracking has the potential of triggering. I’m really astonished that we bully through with the idea of fracking as if corporations (the owners of which don’t live here) will protect our resources (proven historically that those people don’t care). The permanent damage of fracking will be a greater cost than the immediate revenue brought in, though greed erases future considerations for all too many people.


      I am not for fracking, however, if America is unable to keep population growth down across the nation, a nation that demands and uses too much oil and gas resources each moth as though these products will be available forever, without making major efforts (money) to produce other energy solutions such as more solar, wind, and river/sea technology, fracking will continue. The main problem in California is there are too many people who move and love the state to death then complain that nothing is being done to resolve the water or energy problems of the state. It’s a people problem in California…..PERIOD!


    Jerry Brown is one of the great leaders in America. It is always a pleasure to hear Governor Brown answer questions directly and not beat around the political bush. The country needs leaders that are frank and truthful, leaders that are not owned by the Koch brothers. The Browns have been one of the great political families in the country who actually, unlike other politicians, server their state and country. May Jerry Brown live forever. HIs sister would have also made a great governor for California.

  • loyal listener

    Wow, that was a hard-hitting interview. .. (sarcasm)

    Wy didn’t you ask the governor why the unemployment rate is so high in California?

  • roo02

    54 years and counting…

    For the past four years, the GOVERNOR AND LEGISLATURE have IGNORED the UCLA/RAND report (Gary Blasi, co-author) on the STATEWIDE FAILURE to enforce CIVIL RIGHTS via the FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING ACT (FEHA), the first comprehensive review of the statutes in the 50 years since its enactment.

    “The SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL administrative and legal systems… provide little protection for employees in low-wage occupations, racial minorities, and women, with substantial disparities in access, outcome and deterrence.” … [It] operates to discriminate against members of the very groups it was created to protect: racial minorities, particularly African Americans, and women.” (emphasis added)

    Senators MARK LENO, ELLEN CORBETT, LONI HANCOCK, and BILL MONNING attended that 2/23/10 hearing as members of the Judiciary—and representatives of the most liberal constituents in the state of California—but have DONE NOTHING since then.

    As if this wasn’t damning enough to re-election prospects—or wouldn’t be if party-line voters researched the candidates’ records beforehand…

    A “secret” policy allows GOVERNOR BROWN to review and veto discrimination complaints filed by public employees without public disclosure, according to a Senate committee report that just happened to be published the week before Christmas 2013… for the designed minimal effect.

  • pjoshualaskey

    I know it’s a journalistic convention, but I wish more journalists would take into account the difference between using the metonym of the capital city’s name and the actual city and its people. When talking to the governor of the State of California, it would be better (and more accurate?) to refrain from using a phrase like “the view from Sacramento” because indeed it is the view from California perhaps. We here in Sacramento the city often get conflated with the state and its politics. However a true view from Sacramento the city might be quite different from that of Gov. Jerry Brown. His view might rightly be said to be a view from the Capitol building or even more specifically from the governor’s office, but it’s very much like getting a senator or the president to talk about a view from Washington DC when in fact the people of Washington are very different from the politicians were sent there as the People’s representatives.

    • Jeremy

      Good point – thanks for your comment! -Jeremy

      • pjoshualaskey

        Jeremy–Thanks for your response and for taking the time to read my comment. I know personally that it’s not easy to be a journalist, and I know style guides of some sort or another rule many a newsroom. If you’ve ever been a resident of a capital (as you might well be having a job in Boston), you might know the cringe some of us get whenever election season rolls around and our city starts being used as a stand in for everything wrong with government. Thanks for being our eyes and ears out there (as journalists are), and keep fighting the good fight!

        Best for tomorrow’s show!

    • it_disqus

      Good point. How did Jeremy Hobson get this job?

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    People living in acute & chronic water scarcity zones in India practice following water saving techniques-
    1. Rub all your used kitchen utensils with some rice-bran for cleansing oily surfaces. Utensils like frying pans can be cleansed with old news papers. The oily rice bran can then be dumped into manure pits.
    2. Take bath – sitting on a Khatia : ( a cot like thing made by coconut threads rope ) with minimum water. Collect the bath water in a flat & wide utensil placed below Khatia.
    The kitchen utensils can be ‘washed’ with this water – containing bath soap trickles.
    The utensils can then be cleaned with good quality water added with ‘purification / disinfectant chemicals’.
    3. Children & old people may be just ‘sponged’ with water for 1 day – followed by a ‘bath’ next day.
    4. Provide as much mulching for your trees / indoor plants.
    5. Chanting of पर्जन्य सूक्त ( = hymns for inviting rains : from अथर्ववेद) is worth trying. If you are located in a hilly terrain, ‘painting’ rock surfaces in deep gorges with any edible oil may ‘attract’ the rainy clouds.

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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