New state water director appointed

Karla Nemeth, newly named director of the state Department of Water Resources. (Photo: Video screen capture)

Karla Nemeth, a veteran water official and a ranking member of the Brown administration, was named the new director of the state Department of Water Resources, part of a major shakeup at the agency,  officials said Tuesday.

The change follows a turbulent period at the Water Resources Department, which included the dramatic failure last year of the emergency spillway at the department’s Oroville Dam — an event that an independent report said was due in part to human error. That failure, in turn, followed years of severe drought in California.

Nemeth replaces Grant Davis, who is returning to the Sonoma County Water Agency as general manager.

“In the past year alone, the most severe drought in California’s recorded history was interrupted by one of the wettest seasons on record, putting extreme pressure on our flood control infrastructure and exposing vulnerabilities,” said John Laird, the state’s natural resources secretary.

Grant Davis

Laird also announced the “restructuring and elevation of a number of positions on its executive team to help improve long-term planning and day-to-day management of key water programs, dam safety and flood control ­– functions that are increasingly critical in the face of climate change.”

Those include creating two new positions — one focused on dam safety and flood management, a move that stems from a recent report targeting the spillway failure. Erich Koch, a veteran DWR executive, will fill the new slot.

The second new position will combine the deal with integrated water management and focus on long-term planning.

The changes “will help the state better prepare for ever-greater challenges to our infrastructure and flood management systems, and ensure that California is doing everything possible to ensure dam and flood safety.”

Nemeth has been deputy secretary and senior adviser for water policy at the Natural Resources Agency since 2014, was Bay-Delta Conservation Plan project manager at the agency from 2009 to 2014 and was environmental and public affairs director at the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Zone 7 from 2005 to 2009.


  • rr77

    If dam safety is an issue why not hire a civil engineer instead of a PR person to head the agency. The governor probably doesn’t want to hear he has to spend money on dam safety so it is just cheaper to hire a talking head instead of a subject matter expert.

  • Mike Segal

    You forgot to mention her husband gives “strategic thinking” to the Southern Cal water districts who are the main movers for storing more water than the dams can safely hold, a root cause of the Oroville failure.

  • CountMeIn

    Are we completely missing the point here. An audit shows that several hundred million was spent and wasted on the delta tunnels planning; the PR person is not being “hired.” Wasn’t Ms. Nemeth the prior Chief Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Agency (NRA) in charge of water policy for the entire umbrella of state agencies under NRA (including DWR)? I believe that would mean she and her husband, Tom Philp of MWD, have actually been making water policy together? Appointing her in as DWR Director might be an easy way to keep anyone from finding all of those other secrets of financial mismanagement, waste and misuse of bond funds at all of those agencies which have been under the control of Mr. Laird and Ms. Nemeth for how long?

Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: