Grant Davis reinstated as head of Sonoma County Water Agency after brief tenure in Sacramento

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After a 5-month stint running California’s Department of Water Resources, Grant Davis was reappointed Tuesday to his prior job as general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency.

The Board of Supervisors, acting as directors of the Water Agency, unanimously agreed to reinstate Davis, commending him as a trusted leader with a proven track record in the area.

“There’s an absolute understanding of your ability and what you were able to do as a conductor, not as a dictator, at the Water Agency,” said Supervisor James Gore, the board chairman.

Supervisors didn’t delve much into Davis’ brief tenure in Sacramento. His departure from the state water department, announced earlier this month, came along with a broader executive restructuring days after independent investigators criticized the department in a report about the Oroville dam crisis last February.

The near-failure of a spillway at the dam, which is owned and operated by the Department of Water Resources, occurred months before Davis took the reins of the department in August. An independent forensic team’s report on the incident said it stemmed from a “long-term systemic failure” of the department and federal regulators to adequately prepare the dam. The report also called the water department a “somewhat insular organization” and said it needed to focus more on dam safety.

In an interview Tuesday, Davis noted he wasn’t questioned by the forensic team and said he approached Sonoma County supervisors to discuss his possible return before the report about the dam was published. He and county officials have characterized his reinstatement as motivated by a desire to help the community recover from the October wildfires.

“This is where I belong,” said Davis, who still lives in Petaluma. “It was a choice of whether I was going to be working for the state or working for the county. I chose to work for the county.”

He was hired back at the same county pay tier that he left and is set to earn a salary of $253,502, making him one of the county’s highest-paid executives.

The board conveyed its gratitude to Mike Thompson, the former assistant general manager who filled the top job on an interim basis, and other Water Agency leaders who stepped up in recent months, particularly after the wildfires.

“It’s ... a testament to Grant’s leadership that he was able to cultivate such an amazing group of people,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “A lot of innovation has happened and will continue to happen.”

Davis, 55, first joined the Water Agency staff as assistant general manager in 2007. He moved into the general manager role three years later, and under his leadership the agency “enjoyed many accomplishments,” including strides in climate adaptation, recycled water and reservoir operations, said Christina Cramer, the county’s human resources director.

Though he was only at the Department of Water Resources for five months, Davis indicated he’d learned a lot leading a much larger agency, referencing the milestone the Oroville dam reached Nov. 1 when, more than eight months after the near-disaster, its main spillway was repaired and strengthened enough to withstand strong rains.

“If that didn’t teach me more about the need to invest in our aging infrastructure, nothing would,” Davis said.

County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said Davis will also join a team of county department leaders tasked with helping draft a plan to chart the long-term recovery from the October fires and prepare the region to withstand future disasters. Davis’ work in that area will focus on natural resources, Bratton said.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337.

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