Pat Brown’s Position on Water Since the ‘50s


It is with great interest that I read the letters (Jan. 27) by Thomas Graff of Berkeley and Carl Boronkay, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District.

For a period of 8 years (1950-1958) as attorney general, I was personally involved in every major state and federal water case. I worked with both Gov. Earl Warren and Gov. Goodwin Knight and their Department of Water Resources. As attorney general, I was a member of the Water Project Authority.

When I became governor in 1959 I knew that the problem of water conservation and delivery had to be solved. We proposed and passed a bond issue of $1.75 billion to build the California Water Project. This was the largest statewide bond issue in this or any state. We lost 48 of the 58 counties, but carried the populous counties of Southern California, and it was by less than 150,000 votes. If we had not built the Oroville Dam, the Edmund G. Brown Aqueduct and the San Luis Reservoir, California would be facing a tremendous water shortage.


I understand the fears of the Northern Californian and the greater population in Southern California. They fear that Southern California will take Northern California water and will need more water in the years ahead. Northern California has its in-migration. It also has a large number of California pioneers who resent the political strength of Los Angeles. My own family came to California in the 1850s. I realize and respect their fears.

As attorney general in 1950, I realized that this state, growing at the rate of 300,000 people a year, would, by the end of the century, have somewhat in the neighborhood of 30 million people. I knew that Northern California needed flood control and Southern California needed water. As governor, I personally campaigned in 1960 for the bond issue up and down the state. I was regarded as a “traitor” by some Northern Californians who felt that Southern California was “stealing” their water and that I was an active participant. This was not true--the project benefits both the North and South.

The passage of the bond issue and the building of the California Water Project I regard as one of the great achievements of my administration. The Peripheral Canal was not part of the original California Water Project; but, at the suggestion of the California Fish & Game Commission, we determined to protect the fish life of California by building the Peripheral Canal. It, incidentally, provided storage for an additional 700,000 acre-feet of water and provided control of water in flood years.

The directors of Water Resources under Govs. Knight, Ronald Reagan, my son Jerry Brown, myself and Gov. George Deukmejian’s present director, David Kennedy, all supported the building of the Peripheral Canal. It was defeated in 1964 because of a poor campaign, particularly in Northern California.

The Peripheral Canal would be good for the Delta, it would be good for Northern California, it would be good for the San Joaquin Valley and for Southern California. It should be built. I am surprised that the people who know the problems of growth in this state are giving up so easily. Talk to any of the directors of Water Resources, Republican or Democrat, and you will find that they are unanimous that the Peripheral Canal must be built. I agree with them.


Los Angeles