Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Tom Graff, Water Guy

AN UPDATE: The New York Times gave Mr. Graff his due with a very nice obituary Sunday. I wish I had know about his free-throw scorekeeping.

All this talk this week and last and for all I know the next year or so about the state's water plans. And I'm very saddened to read that Tom Graff has died.

Unless you're somehow involved in California water, you don't know him. But I first heard of him in law school, when I studied the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. His name was all over the place in accounts of it - he helped get it passed. The act, shepherded by George Miller in Congress, required that the federal Bureau of Reclamation do a better job accounting for water in the Delta, so as to protect wildlife and fisheries. It came up with an accounting system for water used there, and Tom Graff explained that to me, patiently.

Maybe you know this feeling: the one where your whole brain is opening up and you can see a whole topic, a place, a something on the horizon that you know will capture your interest for a long time. I had that feeling about California water issues in law school, and I had it again when I was a new reporter at KQED and Tom Graff (and Barry Nelson at NRDC, and Jared Huffman, then at NRDC, and Brian Gray, and Clifford Lee, and the work of Joe Sax, all Bay Area types, but hell, I was in the Bay Area) explained CALFED to me. To the extent anyone can, ever.

Schwarzenegger said, in a release: "Throughout California’s water crisis, Tom fought for conservation, market transfers, water for fish and other important issues that became a crucial part of the historic water package recently passed by the legislature. His has made invaluable contributions to our state and its environment and he will be greatly missed."

I didn't know him personally, other than to verify that he was the kind of guy who walked around with a messy stack of papers rather than a neat one, but he still knew what was in it. But I do know that he was 65, around the age my mom was when she died, and so I think instinctively: that's too soon.