Governor Brown Reverses Decades of Inaction on Water

Robbie Column

March 2014 - California's water storage and delivery system is more than a half-century old. For decades, elected officials have ignored it, have not improved it, have not invested in it. For too long, our leaders did not take the necessary measures to ensure a reliable water supply for our growing state, for citizens, industry and agriculture in California. So today, here we are.

It reminds me of our electricity crisis over a decade ago. Governor Gray Davis got most of the blame at the time, but in fact it was a man-made disaster resulting from many years of inaction. At that time, we had not built a new power plant in California in over 30 years. Our leaders had continually failed to address the future electricity needs of California. Until finally, the lights went out and they had no choice.

Likewise, here we are today, with a water system inadequate for today's needs. It has taken the worst drought on record to make obvious what should have been clear all along: we need to aggressively invest in our infrastructure for transporting and storing water.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and called for legislation to provide $687 million for drought relief, to assist workers directly affected by the drought, to encourage conservation, and to jump-start local infrastructure improvements to more efficiently store and manage local supplies. Legislators quickly and overwhelmingly approved the package.

That is a very good start. But much, much more investment is needed, and the Building Trades will continue to work with elected leaders through 2014 to make it happen. The Governor has developed a comprehensive plan to capture runoff from the snowpack, and developing a transportation and storage system with the capacity to address California's water needs for decades to come.  

There will be lots of action this year. In no small part because of the united advocacy from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, regional councils, union locals, and working people across California, we now have the right Governor and Legislature in office to meet the challenge.

Actually, we helped forge a water bond agreement back in 2009 that was intended for the 2010 ballot. But the state was still grappling with enormous budget deficits then, which would have made the ballot measure a much harder sell to voters. So that bond measure was delayed to allow time for the state's finances to be fixed.

To their great credit, Governor Brown and the Legislature have ended the gridlock, erased the massive annual deficits, and now annually deliver healthy, balanced and on-time state budgets. So there is no more reason to delay the desperately needed improvements to our water system.

A more efficient and reliable water system is absolutely necessary for continued economic growth, for a prosperous agricultural sector producing food at an affordable price, for better environmental and habitat protections, and, of paramount importance, for the future of the construction industry and jobs for construction workers. State law requires identifiable water sources as a condition for obtaining building permits on major projects. That makes improving our water system mandatory to growing our economy and creating good new construction jobs.

As our historic drought has made painfully clear, this can't wait any longer. This has to be the year when me make the major investments in water storage and delivery that will keep our state green and prospering, that will provide protection from future droughts, and will put thousands of Californians to work building the improved water infrastructure.

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