C&O: Your next cause was nuclear energy?
DG: That was on the ballot in 1976. It would have given California land use control, where to site nuclear power plants. The legislature responded by creating the California Energy Commission with responsibility for projecting energy needs for the state and for siting power plants. This took all the wind out of our sails, and we permitted the initiative to go down in defeat.
I was easily drawn into that campaign because I had done the nuclear analysis for the People's Lobby initiative, and had made friends with a nuclear physicist who at that time was working at RAND. He came and spent an evening with the six of us working on this ballot measure and taught us that nuclear power is just a way of boiling water to make steam to turn a turbine; that's all it does. Barry Commoner [the biologist, professor at Washington University in St. Louis, opponent of nuclear testing in the 1950s, and a leading voice in the ecology movement in the 1970s] used to say that using nuclear power to make electricity is like using a chain saw to cut butter. There are so many other ways to boil water to turn a turbine.
Nuclear power plants were being built only because the Price-Anderson Act insured the nuclear industry against failures. If there was a meltdown or catastrophic accident, it limited its liability to $500 million. The federal government would pick up the rest. Without that insurance policy there would be no nuclear power at all in the United States.
C&O: Each of your projects grew out of something you learned from a previous one. In recent years you have been a leader in trying to change water policy. You've founded Heal the Bay to work in water quality in Santa Monica Bay, and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council. What took you to water?
DG: Ellen Stern Harris. She had worked for years to get an appointment to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) Board, representing the City of Beverly Hills, where she lived. She wanted to know why they were so powerful and how they functioned. Upon finally getting this appointment, she called together the environmental community to help her with this task. We met at her home with MWD's chief general counsel, and it became clear that water is at the heart of all California politics. I was between issues at that time and was intrigued, so I began to accompany her to board meetings, to read up on the history, and to understand that water was the most basic engine for California's growth and development. The land speculators that drive the influx of people in the south have always looked for more water to serve their development schemes. The Peripheral Canal on the ballot in 1982 would have taken Sacramento River water around the Delta directly to the pumps, to increase the amount of water that could be taken from that environment. I served on the statewide committee that fought against this destructive answer to more water for both southern California and for the farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
The two most difficult issues out there now are privatization of water and using "paper water" (water that only exists in contracts, on paper) for development purposes. To have a sustainable water future we need to use what we've got a lot more efficiently and effectively. C-WIN [California Water Impact Network] is now engaged in lawsuits challenging the urban water management plans of some water districts in an attempt to stop development based on paper water, contracted water that cannot be delivered.
C&O: If you weren't in frail health right now, what would you be doing next?
DG: I would be organizing the state around the principles for a sustainable water future that grew out of my book.
C-WIN took the "Elements of a Sustainable Water Future," with which I end the book [tentatively titled Water Politics: Avoiding Conflict in California, to be published by University of California Press], and has refined it into 16 principles. I have designed and had built a website (www.c-win.org) to solicit endorsements and to act as a network for all the small nonprofits that work on water to share information and needs. The only way to take on those with the money and political influence is to organize the people. I am now seeking the funding needed to hire help to make this happen.
This article is greatly abridged. For the full text, see the print edition of Coast & Ocean .