STOCKTON, Feb. 22, 2018 – Documents acquired by Restore the Delta from a recent a public records act request to Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) confirm that newly appointed California Department of Water Resources Director (DWR) Karla Nemeth was a MWD employee from 2009 to 2014, earning over $900,000 in total compensation. During her MWD tenure, she was contracted to work for Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) planning under the CalFed program, and then by the California Department of Water Resources. All PRA documents sent by MWD to Restore the Delta can be read here.
Representatives from various state water agencies and policy groups downplayed Ms. Nemeth’s pro-tunnels employment history with MWD in a recent Sacramento Bee report, while Restore the Delta maintained that Ms. Nemeth’s work history should be further scrutinized as a conflict of interest. Specifically, Restore the Delta noted that a report from Transparent California indicated Ms. Nemeth’s complicated employment history between MWD and California Natural Resources Agency.
The PRA documents show MWD was reimbursed by CalFed and then DWR for Ms. Nesmeth’s compensation. Nevertheless, MWD controlled Ms. Nesmeth’s job title and compensation and promoted her in 2012 to a Program Manager III for her broader strategic work, even though California Natural Resource Agency’s Jerry Meral had to sign off on her overall performance for billing purposes. While working under CalFed, Ms. Nemeth’s payroll was processed for a short time by the Delta Stewardship Council, and while working for DWR, her payroll was processed by the engineering arm of DWR.
It is also worth noting that at one point DWR requested from MWD a board resolution affirming the legality of Ms. Nemeth working for DWR. MWD’s assistant general manager Roger Patterson indicated the matter would not be taken to the MWD Board.
The documents further reveal that Ms. Nemeth worked under an interjurisdictional employee exchange agreement from February 2009 through December 2010. Ms. Nemeth was an employee for the contractor, Metropolitan Water District, assigned by MWD to work for the Natural Resources Agency under CalFed to oversee intergovernmental outreach for BDCP planning, equaling a total compensation of over $300,000. A second contract indicates that Ms. Nemeth was on loan from MWD to the Department of Water Resources from May 2010 through April 2014 performing similar functions for a total compensation of $638,000.
However, the January 10, 2018 press release announcing Ms. Nemeth’s appointment as head of DWR described her as the project manager for WaterFix with the Natural Resources Agency from 2009-2014 without any mention of her employment with Metropolitan Water District. In effect, she was an embedded MWD employee shaping state water policy and development for DWR.
Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla made the following statement regarding the findings within the PRA documents,
“While it appears on the surface that Ms. Nemeth’s employment as a MWD contractor on loan to DWR was set up in a legal manner, it speaks volumes that this part of her work history has been hidden from the public, and dismissed by officials with the California Natural Resources Agency in press statements. On the heels of the Oroville catastrophe and subsequent revelations of DWR missteps and negligence in the Oroville response, it is clear that the Department of Water Resources is in need of internal reform. With 44 other state dams needing significant upgrades and repairs, one would think that Secretary Laird and Governor Brown would be interested in hiring an expert managing engineer to lead DWR, or someone with high level management experience within a government agency, like DWR, with a $3 billion budget and 3000 employees. At most, Ms. Nemeth may have managed a dozen people, solely on the Delta tunnels project.
“The Department of Water Resources has functioned for the last ten years as a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Water District with all functions centered on construction of the boondoggle Delta tunnels. This appointment reaffirms that DWR, the state’s managing entity for the entire state’s water resources, is held captive by the outsized influence of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Secretary Laird and Governor Brown have placed in the director’s job someone whose primary work experience has been to coordinate public and intergovernmental outreach, in addition to policy planning, for an ill-conceived project. After eleven years of planning, project documents indicate that the project does not restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary and does not include a completed analysis for climate change impacts for water deliveries beyond 2025. The people of California should be outraged over this conflict of interest, and the Governor’s failure to hire the most qualified candidate to deal with California’s new normal of ongoing drought.”