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Gov. ‘Moonbeam’ on Drought: California Is Like ‘Spaceship Earth’

California Gov. Jerry Brown struck an optimistic tone on the state’s record drought Tuesday night, saying technology and a “more elegant” way of living would ensure the state could beat its water shortage problems.

Speaking at a California Conversation forum at the University of Southern California with Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune chief executive Austin Beutner, Brown said the state could accommodate as many as 10 million more people in the coming years, provided residents adapt to a new way of life.

“We are altering this planet with this incredible power of science, technology and economic advance,” Brown said at the forum, according to the Times. “If California is going to have 50 million people, they’re not going to live the same way the native people lived, much less the way people do today….You have to find a more elegant way of relating to material things. You have to use them with greater sensitivity and sophistication.”

Brown also likened the state to “spaceship Earth.”

“In a spaceship you reuse everything,” Brown said. “Well, we’re in space and we have to find a way to reuse, and with enough science and enough funding we’ll get it done.”

In April, Brown ordered the State Water Resources Control Board to devise a plan to cut statewide water use by 25 percent this year. But the broad conservation plan has faced both practical and legal challenges.

Californians cut water use by 13.9 percent in April, a significant improvement over the disappointing cutbacks in February and March, but still a long way away from the state’s 25 percent target. Meanwhile, last week, the city of Riverside sued the state over its conservation plan. Riverside, ordered to reduce water use by 24 percent under the state plan, argues that it should only have to cut use by 4 percent because it holds an abundance of groundwater in the Bunker Hill Basin.

In April, the Fourth District Court of Appeals found that the city of San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water rates, on which the state plan heavily relies, violated voter-approved Proposition 218, which stipulates that a government agency may not charge more for a service than it costs to provide it.

The state plan does not apply to agricultural interests, but California farmers with senior water rights offered to give up 25% of their available allotment this year in exchange for no future cuts, an offer that state water regulators accepted.

Still, Brown was asked at the forum about agriculture’s exemption from the statewide plan. Specifically, Beutner asked why alfalfa grown with California water is being exported to China.

“It’s a bit complicated for any glib answer,” Brown replied. “People talk about how much water almonds take, or walnuts, or alfalfa….Is part of the drought strategy to reduce meat consumption? If you’re growing almonds and putting them on the export market, you’re bringing capital and revenue into California, and that’s a good thing.”

“Some people call water a right. Some people call water the essence of life,” Brown said when pressed further for an answer. “Water is more than H2O. Water’s a baptism, water’s a poetry, water has an iconic role in human history and human existence, so how we play with water, it’s not like a widget.”

Earlier Tuesday, Brown addressed the Metropolitan Water District board of directors meeting in downtown Los Angeles, praising the agency for its $450 million program that will provide rebates to residents who replace lawns with drought-resistant turf and to those who ditch old, water-intensive appliances like dishwashers with more energy and water-efficient models.

“This is the first time in human history that we’re all in this together,” Brown said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

“We have wreaked havoc on our natural resources,” he added. “[T]here is no way back.”

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