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Filling Garamendi’s Big Shoes

Since 1995, John Garamendi has been one of the most pivotal Californians in the Clinton administration. As deputy secretary of the Interior, he has been in the thick of contentious issues involving this state, from the dispute over the Headwaters old-growth redwoods in the north to the establishment of a low-level radiation dump at Ward Valley in the Mojave Desert.

Now Garamendi, 53, former state insurance commissioner and candidate for governor, is leaving to go into business in Washington. There is no indication yet who will replace him or when. In the interim, the administration risks leaving a leadership vacuum in several areas of extreme importance to California.

One is the Cal-Fed process through which state and federal agencies are seeking to solve critical environmental problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This is important to all of California, but especially the 22 million residents--mostly in Southern California--who rely on the delta for drinking water and the Central Valley farmers who get irrigation water from the delta.

Cal-Fed is attempting to develop a plan that is satisfactory to all--farmers, environmentalists and urban water districts. Strong leadership will be required from both the state and federal governments during the rest of this year. It may be that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt will have to involve himself directly in Cal-Fed to make it work.

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Babbitt knows California water problems well. While he was governor of Arizona, he forged agreement on a long-range state water plan against great odds. Arizona observers said he put all the major players in a room and would not let them leave until a plan was approved.

Babbitt has other pressing duties, not to mention being confronted with an investigation of his role in an Indian gambling issue. But he may be the only one in the federal establishment able to see Cal-Fed through to a solution.


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