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Grant Davis is returning to his job as general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency after five months in charge of the much larger state Department of Water Resources, state and local officials said Wednesday.

Davis, who had led the local water agency since 2010, was tapped in July by Gov. Jerry Brown to head the state agency that provides water to 25 million residents, farms and businesses.

He took a large pay cut with the step up in responsibilities as head of the state water department with nearly 3,300 employees and an operating budget of $3.2 billion. His state salary was $194,600.

Davis, a Petaluma resident, was paid $240,710 in 2016 to run the Sonoma County Water Agency that provides drinking water from the Russian River to more than 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties.

His departure from the state water department comes as part of an overall restructuring of its executive team to improve long-term planning and day-to-day management of key water programs, dam safety and flood control in the wake of a report critical on how the department handled the Oroville Dam crisis in February.

According to a statement Wednesday from the California Natural Resources Agency, the restructuring will help “incorporate lessons learned from recent impacts of extreme weather on the state’s water system.”

Karla Nemeth, deputy secretary and senior advisor for water policy at the state’s natural resources agency since 2014, was appointed to replace Davis.

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore said he received a call from Davis about 10 days ago regarding the local position. In the call, Davis expressed an interest in returning to his old job, particularly in light of the October wildfires, Gore said.

Supervisors, who also serve as directors of the Water Agency, had not yet begun the search for his permanent replacement. They named Mike Thompson, a veteran of the agency who was previously an assistant general manager, the interim leader in August, but Thompson said he wasn’t interested in holding the position on a long-term basis.

Gore said Davis had previously done “an exceptional job” for the Water Agency and county officials had high confidence in his track record. The board approved his reappointment in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

“We were already on the cutting edge of water issues around this county and around the world and we want to continue to be that, so why not bet on what has been a proven result?” Gore said.

“The other option for us is that, at some point this year, we spend $10,000 or $20,000, prepare a bunch of booklets, go out to the world and recruit a new general manager, both from internally and externally, when sitting before us is someone we have supreme confidence in and can come back and start working on day one,” he said.

Gore has directed county staff members to bring Davis back at his previous pay level, which made him the eighth highest-paid county employee. The new contract should be considered by supervisors in a public meeting Jan. 23, and Davis is expected to start work the following day, Gore said.

Davis, 55, said in a Water Agency press release it was “a true honor and privilege” to serve the governor.

“This is going to be a very important year in California for water,” he said, adding that he would help the Water Agency “achieve its ongoing goals while restoring our watersheds impacted by the wildfires.”

Davis could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In July, Davis said he thought the call from the governor’s office to talk about the state job took him by surprise.

“I almost thought it was a joke,” he said at the time.

Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, in a written statement Wednesday, expressed thanks to Davis “for his service to California.”

Gov. Brown on Wednesday named Karla Nemeth as Davis’ successor at the Department of Water Resources. She served as deputy secretary and senior advisor for water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency since 2014.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner. You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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