Two top California water officials retire amidst growing opposition to Delta Tunnels

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Mark Cowin, the Director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), and Carl Torgersen, the DWR Chief Deputy Director, will be retiring from their positions at the embattled agency at the end of 2016.

News of the two officials’ retirement, common knowledge in DWR for some time, was confirmed today by Nancy Vogel, Deputy Secretary for Communications of the California Natural Resources Agency.

Vogel said she doesn’t know who will be replacing them in their positions at DWR.

In response to my question, “Will this have any impact on the deadlines for the California Water Fix?” she replied “No.”

Both officials are retiring at a time when Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels plan, the California WaterFix, has come under increasing fire from recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Tribal leaders, family farmers environmentalists, scientists and elected officials for the enormous threat it poses to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and West Coast salmon and other fisheries.

The California WaterFix that Cowin and Torgersen have promoted would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as imperil the Southern resident killer whale (orca) population. The controversial project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers, a fishery that for thousands of years has played an integral part in the culture, religion and food supply of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes.

On November 28, a coalition of California conservation, fishing and public interest organizations urged the Obama Administration to terminate the California WaterFix before Donald Trump is inaugurated in January.

“It is time now to make the right decision,” the groups said in a letter to federal officials. “The California Water Fix– Delta Water Tunnels– represent a financial as well as an environmental nightmare. This administration should terminate this project. Otherwise, down the road, when the obvious financial and environmental catastrophe is recognized by all, the blame will be placed on this administration.”

The organizations addressed the letter to Sally Jewell, the Secretary of Interior; Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Christina Goldfuss, Managing Director of the Council on Environmental Quality; David Murillo, Regional Director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and other officials.

Groups signing the letter include Friends of the River, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Restore the Delta, Environmental Water Caucus, Center for Biological Diversity, California Water Impact Network, AqAlliance, Sierra Club California, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and Planning and Conservation League. (

“When it takes fraud, cover-ups, hiding your own economic analysis and absurdly low estimates to keep a project proposal afloat, that is a red flag that the project is a bad one that should not go forward,” summed up Bob Wright, senior counsel of Friends of the River (FOR).

Mark W. Cowin has served as Director of DWR since 2010 – and has worked at DWR since 1981. Cowin was re-appointed Director for the California Department of Water Resources by Governor Jerry Brown on April 13, 2012.

“As DWR Director, Mr. Cowin heads a Department that protects, conserves and manages the state’s water supply, including operation of the California State Water Project,” according to his biography, “The SWP is the largest state-run, multi-purpose water and power system in the United States. It provides a supplemental water source for more than 25 million Californians and about 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland and directly sustains over $400 billion of the state’s economy.”

Prior to his appointment as Director, Cowin served as Deputy Director of Integrated Water Management for DWR. His primary responsibilities included overseeing DWR’s flood management and dam safety programs, implementing Integrated Regional Water Management, coordinating DWR’s efforts related to climate change, and updating and implementing the California Water Plan.

In previous assignments, Cowin served for five years as Chief of DWR’s Division of Planning and Local Assistance and was responsible for the state’s strategic planning for water management and for providing technical and financial assistance for water management to local agencies and communities. Cowin also served as an Assistant Director for the CALFED Bay-Delta Program where he was responsible for the Bay-Delta Program’s water management planning activities. He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Stanford University in 1980.

Carl A. Torgersen was appointed Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources by Governor Jerry Brown. on November 25, 2015.Prior to assuming his current role, Torgersen was the Deputy Director of the State Water Project since 2012, according to his biography:

He also served as Chief of the Division of Operations and Maintenance since 2006 where he supervised over 1,100 employees engaged in the operation of the SWP. Prior to becoming Division Chief, he served as Chief of the SWP Operations Control Office, responsible for the planning of water and power operations. Additionally, Torgersen held a prior assignment as Chief of the San Luis Field Division.

He began his career with DWR in 1981 as a Mechanical Engineer in what was then the Division of Design and Construction and has worked on a wide variety of projects including the expansion of Banks and Pearblossom Pumping Plants, the North Bay Aqueduct, and the Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates.

Torgersen earned a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from California State University, Sacramento and is a Registered Mechanical Engineer.