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.
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.