"We have our aging infrastructure and it's maxed out," Brown said.
Speaking on the heels of some major issues in his state, Brown wants to spend more than $430 million immediately to shore up vulnerable dams and levees.
"It's a matter of balancing priorities. I would say these liabilities are a serious cloud and we have to take them seriously and do more than chip away at them. We have to make substantial investments," he said.
The relentless rains of this winter have exposed a series of issues in Northern California. The most prominent is in Oroville, where heavy runoff created a hole in the main spillway. Then the auxiliary spillway began to fail, prompting the emergency evacuation of more than 100,000 residents.
"We've known for a long time that we've had issues with water infrastructure in California," UC Berkley Water Center's Jennifer Sokes-Draut said.
Stokes-Draut is a research engineer at the U.C. Berkeley Water Center. "People operating these dams are used to a drought mentality, where their primary focus is to save water because we're going to need it in the summer. So they're hesitant to release water when they need to, so when a heavy rain comes they find themselves behind the ball," she said.
The centerpiece of Brown's immediate plan -- nearly $400 million, devoted to new flood protection for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the Central Valley.
So far, no specific projects have been identified.
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