Governor pitches water tunnel project to farmers

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The California Aqueduct in the Central Valley (AP Photo/California Department of Water Resources)

COLUSA, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown waded into potentially hostile territory Wednesday as he pitched his $14 billion plan to reshape California’s water-delivery system by building massive tunnels below the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

He attended one of the largest agricultural shows on the West Coast and addressed hundreds of farmers, some of whom later said they remain wary of the latest proposal to address the state’s water problems.

The Democratic governor acknowledged that many people in the region, about an hour’s drive north of the state capital, have a different political philosophy than he does, noting that he has never won Colusa County in any of his statewide races. Yet he told a crowd of about 500 at the Colusa Farm Show’s annual breakfast that he would promise to protect their water.

The stakes are partly personal for the governor, who retains an interest in 2,700 acres of ranch land in Colusa County settled by his great-grandfather.

“I said we’re going to protect that land, and I promise you today that I’m going to protect the water on that land and the water in this county and everywhere else in this state,” he told a crowd that generally gave him a warm welcome.

He vowed to return and speak more with community members as his water proposal is developed. But he also said the 100-year-old levees protecting the Sacramento River delta would not withstand a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or sea level increases.

“We need a secure, reliable supply. At the same time, we’ve got to have protections to protect your rights. So it’s very challenging,” he said.

Farmers in the delta region and upriver from where the tunnels will be located are concerned about their water supply if the governor’s proposal succeeds.

Brown says the tunnels are needed to ensure that water deliveries continue to Southern California cities and Central Valley farmers into the future. Many farmers and Republican lawmakers want more water storage in Northern California.

“We’re still worried. That tunnel he wants to put in, we’re not too keen on it,” said Kurt Boeger, a Republican rice farmer from Yuba City.

Boeger said he generally likes the governor and appreciates some of the things he has done for farmers.

“That canal and those tunnels, once they’re there, the pressure’s going to be on us to send water there,” he said, as others nodded.

Bruce Rolen, a rice and alfalfa farmer from Williams and a member of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District Board, said he wants to see Brown’s plan incorporate some of the guarantees included in a water bond proposal approved by the Legislature in 2006 that was postponed because of the recession.

“That had sites, reservoirs, specific money earmarked for our protection,” he said.

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