‘‘It’s mismanagement. If we can’t manage with what we have, why can we manage better with tunnels?’’ she said.
Voters statewide rejected a similar water conveyance plan, the so-called peripheral canal, during Brown’s first stint as governor in 1982.
Brown’s water challenges also come against the backdrop of history, specifically his father’s tenure as governor in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Then-Gov. Pat Brown reached a water deal in 1959, persuading lawmakers and voters to back the State Water Project, an extensive system of reservoirs and canals that was considered an engineering marvel in its day.
It now supplies 25 million people and farms that produce half the nation’s fruit and vegetables.
But that system was created for a state with a population half of the current 38 million, and the state has not built a major reservoir in Northern California since 1968.
The most significant step in recent years seeking to address California’s water system is the $11.1 billion water bond on this year’s ballot, a legislative deal brokered in 2009 that is now considered too expensive and bloated with local pork barrel projects. The bond includes money to move water, store it, protect sensitive environmental areas and ensure clean drinking water.
At least four less costly proposals have been drafted, but Brown has yet to offer his own opinion. One of the plans, offered by two Republican state senators, would eliminate many of the earmarks in the current bond measure but retain $3 billion for water storage, $2.5 billion to protect the delta water supply and $1 billion for clean drinking water.
‘‘We haven’t done anything substantive on water policy in this state in 50 years,’’ said Sen. Anthony Canella of Ceres, co-author of the bond plan with Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford. ‘‘This drought just now really highlights how bad our water infrastructure is in California.’’
Despite the extreme political challenges, Brown seems intent on securing some kind of sweeping water overhaul. And for that, he deserves credit, said Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State University.
‘‘Whatever you think about Jerry Brown’s specific proposal, he’s the first person to deal with these things on a widespread, comprehensive basis,’’ he said.