We are in process of re-reading the late Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert, which is a recounting of land and water development of the western United States. It is about as informative and entertaining a book we have ever read.
Please take a moment and read these two paragraphs we have excerpted from the book and you will soon realize why it took us a minute or so to pick ourselves off the floor after we read it ourselves. What is at issue here is the California State Water Project that was an ambitious plan to provide water to San Joaquin Valley irrigation farmers as well as to the households and businesses of Southern California from Northern California sources. Some of the more outlandish portions of the plan entailed damming rivers in the Coastal Range of Northern California and re-routing that water southward.
By the time Reagan left in Sacramento in 1974, the Department of Water Resources was predicting that the dreaded shortfall - demand for water greater than supply of water - might be as little as fifteen years away. To plan the final phase of the State Water Project, get it approved and funded, and build it would easily require fifteen years. Through an irony some found delicious, then, the person who took it upon himself to complete the project that Pat Brown (Reagan's predeccessor as California's governor) had left unfinished was none other than the apostle of the "era of limits", the first politician to proclaim that "small is beautiful" and "less is more": Jerry Brown - Pat Brown's son.
"He did it for the old man" was how Jerry Brown's last loyalist explained the spectacle of the younger Brown promoting what seemed certain to become the most expensive water project in the history of the world. Depending on which of the Brown administration's estimates one believed - and a new one seemed to appear every six months or so - the cost of completing the project was either astonishing or flabbergasting. What Pat Brown hadn't foreseen, when he underfunded the bond issue to ensure that the voters would pass it, was inflation. Because of inflation, it would cost two to five times more to deliver the project's last 1.73 million acre-feet than it had cost to deliver the first 2.5 million. The most detailed estimate, released by the DWR in 1980, pegged the cost at $11.6 billion. Interest on the bonds - based on a rate of 9 percent, which was then 3 points too low - would add another $12 billion. It was unheard-of. The only comparable schemes anywhere in the world were Canada's James Bay Project and Itaipu Dam, which would end up costing $19 billion and help Brazil dig itself a bottomless financial hole. But Itaipu would at least generate 12,500 megawatts of electricity to help pay for itself. Brown's Phase Two water plan would consume an awesome amount of power, because the water, cubic miles of it, would be pumped not just uphill but over a mountain range.
Good god. The man is absolutely addicted to astronomically massive public works projects of dubious environmental benefit and highly questionable need. And let's throw in constantly shifting cost estimates, usually upward, though California's Legislative Budget Office has managed to get the cost of California's high-speed choo-choos down to $68 billion (original estimate when the bond measure was voted on in 2008: $30 bil) after employing possibly illegal provisions to the project and some business-as-usual in California budget gimmickry.
Some 30-35 years ago, the governor of California was held hostage in a sense by the legacy of his father. Now, same governor, held hostage by a coalition of Big Labor, Big Green and a Presidential administration dangling billions with strings attached. Like rust, statism never sleeps.