Stanislaus to vote on hiring former MID executive for water job

jnsbranti@modbee.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Walter Ward, who oversaw Modesto Irrigation District’s water operations before retiring three months ago, is expected to be named Stanislaus County’s water resources manager today.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on a proposal to hire Ward at a top-of-the-pay-scale $109,450 per year. Ward, 58, had been earning $150,000 at MID, where he spent 17 years working his way up the ranks to the assistant general manager in charge of all irrigation, reservoir and drinking water operations.

Before announcing his surprise retirement in October, Ward managed about 75 MID employees in the utility’s irrigation and civil engineering divisions and at the plant supplying Modesto drinking water.

Stanislaus County is creating Ward’s position primarily to address concerns about falling groundwater levels.

According to the job description, Ward will be “responsible for planning, organizing and overseeing the county’s water resources management plan,” along with “developing strategies, policies and programs to enhance groundwater resource opportunities and project implementation.”

Ward also will work with the county’s new 21-member Water Advisory Committee, which is expected to be appointed soon.

During an interview last fall, Ward told The Modesto Bee he thinks groundwater regulations “are long past overdue” and that he fears state lawmakers will step in if Stanislaus officials do not. Regarding proposals to limit groundwater pumping, he had warned “it’s going to be hugely controversial.”

One water management tool Ward may be able to start using soon is a computerized 3-D mapping program that’s supposed to simulate and analyze groundwater flows and predict the impact of pumping on Stanislaus’ water supply.

While at MID, Ward spent nearly 10 years encouraging and overseeing the development of that software by the U.S. Geologic Survey, and it finally is expected to be ready to use this fall.

Ward had said that the Stanislaus-focused simulation optimization program will provide a kind of “crystal ball” to determine how groundwater pumping – or flood irrigating – in one part of the county could affect water levels elsewhere.

Ward graduated from Modesto’s Davis High School in 1973, and he attended Modesto Junior College, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Wyoming. He has a degree in geological sciences and 30 years experience working in assorted public and private water-related jobs.

Today’s vote to hire Ward is on the supervisors’ consent agenda, which means it’s scheduled to be approved without public discussion.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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