There’s a new head for California water policy, but don’t expect new direction

  • Published on July 20th, 2017

California’s embattled Department of Water Resources (DWR) got a new director this week: Governor Jerry Brown appointed Grant Davis, 54, of Petaluma to head the agency, reeling from intense international and national media scrutiny of its mishandling of the Oroville Dam spillway crisis.

By Dan BacherOroville Dam image by California Nation Guard

DWR is also the lead state agency in the collaborative effort with the Donald Trump administration to build Jerry Brown’s controversial “legacy water policy project,” the Delta Tunnels/WaterFix.

“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in a telephone interview from Washington D.C. Wednesday, where he was lobbying in support of long-range weather forecasting.  “I will be a major participant in that effort.”

Long track record on water policy

Davis has been general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency since February 2011. Before that he was the interim general manager from 2009 to 2011 and the assistant general manager from 2007 to 2009.

That agency provides wholesale water, wastewater treatment and flood control. “It is the largest energy user in the county and became carbon-free in 2015 by providing its water through 100 percent renewable energy,” according to the Governor’s Office.

Before that, Davis was executive director of the Bay Institute from 1997 to 2007, senior district representative in the Office of Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey from 1993 to 1997 and principal of Impact Consulting from 1990 to 1993.

This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $194,600. Davis, a Democrat, will begin his new position in August, pending confirmation.

As expected, Maurice Hall, Associate Vice President of Water Programs at the Environmental Defense Fund, praised Governor Brown’s appointment of Davis.

“Grant Davis has shown great leadership and innovation as general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), and EDF is excited to see him bring these skills to his new role heading the state’s Department of Water Resources,” Hall said in a statement. “Under his leadership, SCWA has proactively embraced the balance of providing reliable water supplies and ecosystem health. Even further, SCWA has been at the very forefront of modernizing water management to incorporate advanced forecasting methods and fully consider climate change.”

Public trust and environmental justice advocates are expecting little to change at DWR as Davis assumes the helm. The appointment comes at a time when increasing numbers of Californians are challenging Governor Jerry Brown’s “environmental” and “climate” credentials as he teams up with the Trump administration to build the environmentally devastating Delta Tunnels and to exempt three major California oilfields from protection under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act.

More of the same

On June 26, the Trump administration released a no-jeopardy finding on the biological assessment to build the California's $15+ billion waterstealing "WaterFix" boondoggletunnels, claiming that the California WaterFix will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify their critical habitat. (Fullbiological opinion is available here.)

Background: Trump admin approves permit to build Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels

Despite the Governor’s vow to “resist” Trump administration attacks on science, the Brown administration praised the deeply flawed biological opinion, a document that may have pushed politics ahead of science.

Over 50 environmental justice and consumer organizations are also war om science book by shawn ottooutraged by the California Legislature’s passage Monday night of the Big Oil-written cap-and-trade bill, Assembly Bill 398. The bill was rammed through the legislature under intense pressure from Governor Jerry Brown, who has received over $9.8 million in contributions from oil and energy companies.

Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog, described AB 398 as a “pollute and profit” bill. She said Brown’s plan “ensures that Californians keep paying the state’s biggest polluters to pollute by banning regulators from ordering refineries and power plants to upgrade pollution controls, and by  pillaging cap-and-trade revenue to pay for tax breaks.”

Background: Cap-and-Trade: 50 environmental groups oppose California’s Chevron-written bill AB 398

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.