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Remembering Tom Graff


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13 November 2009, 2:34 PM
He left his mark on California water policy
Tom Graff.

I met Tom Graff in about 1970 or so. I was at the brand-new Friends of the Earth. Tom had come out from New York to open an office for the slightly older Environmental Defense Fund near the Berkeley campus. He immediately dove (pun intended) into the fractious, messy and endless battles over water in California, the place where, Mark Twain supposedly said, “water flows uphill toward money.”

The California Water Project had been built by then, a maze of canals and pumping stations to divert water from the wet north to the dry south and San Joaquin Valley. Not satisfied with what they had, big ag proposed a “peripheral canal” to route water from the Sacramento River around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a proposal Tom Graff called a rifle pointed at the heart of the Sacramento Valley, or words to that effect. The proposal was resoundingly defeated, in large part owing to Tom's efforts. He went on to help George Miller pass the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which belatedly guaranteed water for fish and wildlife.

Tom died the other day at the too-young age of 65. He leaves a legacy we can only admire and learn from—especially as a brand-new proposal for a kinder, gentler peripheral canal is likely to come bearing down on us soon and the CVPIA is under continuous attack.

Farewell, my friend, you are missed.

 

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