Our executive team guides our daily operations and strategic direction, overseeing our programs, projects, offices, and staff to achieve our goals and mission.
- Read individual biographies below.
- View our organizational chart for a glimpse at our department structure.
- Review our Strategic Business Plan for details on the principles that help guide and focus implementation of our programs and activities.
Karla Nemeth was appointed Director of the California Department of Water Resources by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on January 10, 2018.
DWR operates and maintains the California State Water Project, manages floodwaters, monitors dam safety, conducts habitat restoration, and provides technical assistance and funding for projects for local water needs. Nemeth oversees the Department and its mission to manage and protect California’s water resources, working with other agencies in order to benefit the State’s people and to protect, restore and enhance the natural and human environments.
Nemeth worked at the California Natural Resources Agency as Governor Brown’s deputy secretary and senior advisor for water policy since 2014. She was Bay Delta Conservation Plan project manager from 2009 to 2014.
Nemeth was environmental and public affairs director for the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District from 2005 to 2009. She was community affairs manager at Jones and Stokes from 2003 to 2005.
She has a Master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington.
Cindy Messer was appointed as Chief Deputy Director in February 2017. Prior to her appointment, Messer served as a subject matter expert and policy advisor to the director and former chief deputy director on a broad range of issues impacting statewide water management. She briefly served as acting director in the summer of 2017 after Mark Cowin retired and prior to Grant Davis' appointment.
Messer was the deputy director of the Planning, Performance, and Technology Division at the Delta Stewardship Council from 2012 until her appointment with DWR. As deputy director, she coordinated the preparation and implementation of the Delta Plan. Prior to this position, Messer served as the assistant executive officer for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy where she provided oversight for development of the Delta Conservancy’s Interim Strategic Plan. Messer also worked for more than 10 years in various technical and managerial roles in DWR's Division of Environmental Services.Messer is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental policy analysis and planning. She also earned a Master of Science degree in conservation biology from California State University, Sacramento.
Michelle Banonis was appointed assistant chief deputy director in May 2017. In this capacity, Banonis serves as a subject matter expert and policy advisor to the director and chief deputy director on a broad range of issues impacting statewide water management.
Prior to her appointment, Banonis was area manager for the Bay Delta Office at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, where she also served in several positions since 2009. These included: special assistant to the regional director, California WaterFix program manager, restoration goal supervisor for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, and natural resources specialist. Banonis also served in several positions at the Pierce County Department of Public Works and Utilities in Washington from 2000 to 2009, including environmental permitting supervisor, environmental biologist, and engineering technician.
Banonis is a graduate of Michigan Technological University where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in environmental engineering. Banonis also holds a Juris Doctor from the Humphreys College Laurence Drivon School of Law and is a licensed attorney with the State Bar of California.
Joel Ledesma was appointed State Water Project (SWP) deputy director in July 2017 by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Ledesma is an electrical engineer who has worked with us for more than 3 decades and has expertise in water, energy, and project management. He served as assistant division chief of Operations and Maintenance, chief of Plant Asset Management Branch, chief of the Delta Field Division, chief of Systems Support Office, and chief of Energy Management Systems Branch.
He's led several of our projects, including preparation of the initial start-up of the California Independent System Operator (ISO) Corporation, Business 2000-Phase 2B, implementation of Cyber Infrastructure Protection Program for SWP, and Market Redesign Technical Upgrade project in compliance with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and ISO regulatory and energy market requirements.
From January 4, 2016, until his appointment to deputy director, Ledesma was assistant division chief II, chief of Utility Operations for Operations and Maintenance where he oversaw SWP Operations Control Office, Oroville Field Division, and Delta Field Division with more than 350 employees. This included overseeing SWP Water Supply, ensuring coordination of statewide SWP operations and maintenance, and coordinating water delivery with SWP contractors. Prior to that role, he managed more than 130 employees as Delta Field Division chief, overseeing the operation and maintenance of 5 pumping plants, 4 reservoirs, 4 dams, 2 major environmental projects, and 115.6 miles of 3 aqueducts that included the California Aqueduct, North Bay Aqueduct, and South Bay Aqueduct.
As SWP deputy director, he oversees the Division of Engineering, Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program, SWP Power and Risk Office, Hydropower License Planning and Compliance Office, SWP Analysis Office, Conveyance Office, Division of Environmental Services, Bay-Delta Office, and the largest division—the Division of Operations and Maintenance, which includes 5 field division offices.
A native of Sacramento, Ledesma earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical and electronic engineering with a concentration in power from California State University, Sacramento.
Eric Koch was appointed Flood Management and Dam Safety Deputy Director in December 2017.
Koch has more than 38 years of civil service experience having worked in three different State agencies. He has led the Division of Flood Management since 2016, and most recently, he has served as the Acting Deputy Director for Integrated Water Management.
He began his State career with DWR as a Student Assistant. After working in various engineering positions with other agencies, Koch returned to DWR in July 2007 when he assumed the position of Chief of Flood Project Modifications and Permits Branch in the Division of Flood Management. As the Chief, he managed the repair and restoration of Project levees and local levee urgent repairs and evaluations. After his promotion to Principal Engineer, Koch managed the programmatic and administrative activities of the Flood Projects Office.
Prior to DWR, Koch served in leadership roles at the California Department of Transportation as a Transportation Engineer. His work included the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and regulations for the Traffic Congestion Relief Program. He served as a Public Assistance Officer with the California Office of Emergency Services. His expertise in emergency management was instrumental in the response and recovery efforts that stemmed from the 1994 Northridge earthquake; the 2003 Southern California fires; the 2017 Oroville Spillway emergency; and various flood events.
Koch earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from California State University, Chico. He is a licensed Professional Engineer.
Kristopher A. Tjernell was appointed Deputy Director of the Integrated Watershed Management Program on May 14, 2018. This position is responsible for advancing policies and programs that integrate and provide multiple benefits including flood management, local water supply, and ecosystem restoration. Tjernell oversees the Division of Integrated Regional Water Management, the Division of Statewide Integrated Water Management, the Climate Change Office, and DWR’s EcoRestore Program.
In 2014, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed Tjernell to the position of Special Assistant for Water Policy at the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) where he accelerated and coordinated implementation of Yolo Bypass flood and habitat restoration projects, California EcoRestore projects and related planning, and other actions to further the California Water Action Plan. Tjernell worked closely with Secretary John Laird to develop and negotiate proposed voluntary settlement agreements for each of the major Delta tributaries as part of the State Water Board’s ongoing Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan process.
Prior to his appointment with CNRA, Tjernell was a policy consultant for Conservation Strategy Group, LLC, where he specialized in integrated water management, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta restoration and governance, ESA/CESA issues, land conservation, water supply, ecosystem conflict resolution, and public finance. Tjernell advised a broad array of local public water agencies and non-governmental organizations to advance their federal, state, and local natural resource funding and policy objectives.
Tjernell graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Christy Jones became deputy director for Statewide Emergency Management Program in January 2017.
She began her career in the private industry developing flood awareness models and designing storm drain systems. Jones then served in a variety of managerial positions over a 10-year period with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Sacramento District. Her positions included chief of the Water Management Section, drought coordinator, chief of the Hydrology and Hydraulics Branch, lead senior reservoir operations manager for the Water Management Section, and PL 84-99 program manager of Emergency Operations. Jones has served as team leader for flood and other emergency response activities. Her duties included organizing teams to be ready for deployment and managing deployed employees responding to emergencies such as the Alabama and Missouri tornadoes and the Missouri and North Dakota flooding in 2011. She was deployed for a month in 2011 as an assistant team leader for the response to the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. Jones also constructed and facilitated emergency preparedness exercises for employees responding to different types of emergencies. While at the Corps, Jones worked closely with DWR on projects such as Forecast-Coordinated Operations, the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, and other emergency exercises and plan updates.
Jones previously worked for the DWR Statewide Emergency Management Program deputy director on a wide range of duties supporting operations in the office and field, assisting with training and exercises, developing action plans in coordination with State, federal, and local agencies, and providing direct oversight of assigned special engineering projects. She also leads DWR's Emergency Preparedness Training Committee.Jones earned her Bachelor of Science degree in civil and environmental engineering from Cornell University and her Master of Science degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Davis. She is a licensed civil engineer.
Gary Lippner was appointed Deputy Director of Delta Conveyance on February 20, 2018. This position oversees the implementation of all aspects of the California WaterFix project and manages the Department’s efforts to implement a solution to provide reliable water to California’s businesses, farms, and residents while also providing ecosystem benefits. Lippner provides policy and management direction to help ensure the reliability of available water supply, eliminate impacts of Delta Conveyance on the environment, and address the effects of climate change on existing and future Delta and State Water Project infrastructure.
After working in the private sector and in academia for more than 12 years, Lippner joined DWR in 2009. Starting in February 2017, he served as the Chief of the North Central Region Office (NCRO) in the Division of Integrated Water Management, where he was responsible for various programs including the Truckee River Operating Agreement, and the State’s administration of the Davis-Grunsky Grant, Recreation Planning and Implementation Program. Prior to his appointment as NCRO Chief, Lippner served as DWR’s Drought Emergency Response Team Director where he coordinated with State, federal, and local agencies responding to water shortage and other drought-related emergencies. He was instrumental in assessing risks, identifying areas impacted by drought, facilitating water transfers and infrastructure improvements, and taking actions related to protecting Delta water quality.
Lippner graduated from California State University, Chico with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. He also earned a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from California State University, Sacramento. Lippner is a licensed Professional Engineer.
Katherine S. Kishaba was appointed deputy director of Business Operations on March 2, 2011. Her primary responsibilities include managing fiscal, information technology, procurement, human resources, facilities, and safety programs. Business Operations consists of approximately 400 employees department-wide.
Prior to assuming her current role, Kishaba served as our budget officer beginning in 2003 and was responsible for the development and administration of a multibillion dollar budget. Previously, Kishaba also oversaw all administrative activities of the Bay-Delta Office and worked in the administrative sections of former Division of Land and Right of Way and Office of Water Education (now the Public Affairs Office). She participated in the implementation and upgrade of SAP, our enterprise financial system, and more recently managed the design and roll-out of the Enterprise Budget Planning system in 2009.Kishaba holds both a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Taryn Ravazzini was appointed deputy director of special initiatives in December 2015. This position is responsible for complex projects related to implementation of the California Water Action Plan, with emphasis on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. She serves as a policy advisor and subject matter expert to the director and chief deputy director on a broad range of issues impacting statewide water management. Ravazzini is the executive lead for the Department's implementation of the landmark 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. She also serves as an executive advisor to the California Water Commission, having previously held the position of acting executive officer for the Commission in 2016-2017. Additionally, she recently accepted the appointment to serve as the co-chair for the California Water Quality Monitoring Council on behalf of the California Natural Resources Agency.
Prior to coming to DWR, Ravazzini held an appointment as the coordinator for the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee. Before that, she worked as a strategic public and governmental relations consultant, specializing in natural resources and local government issues. She has held multiple positions at the Association of California Water Agencies in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., staffed U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, was a member of the first class of Judicial Administration Fellows working for the Judicial Council of California, and conducted research and legislative advocacy for the California Postsecondary Education Commission.
Ravazzini earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and Juris Doctor degree from Golden Gate University School of Law. Ravazzini is a licensed attorney and member of the California State Bar.
Spencer Kenner was appointed chief counsel in February 2016. He provides legal advice to the director and management, and oversees 40 attorneys. The legal office is responsible for a broad range of issues, including water rights, water transfers, energy law, flood management, integrated water management, dam safety, personnel, and state contracting.
Kenner was assistant chief counsel beginning in 2013, acting chief deputy in 2015, and senior staff counsel from 2008 to 2013. He served as commission counsel at the California Water Commission, staff counsel at the Employment Training Panel, and deputy general counsel at the California State Lottery. He also served as court counsel at Yolo County Superior Court, staff attorney at Empower Yolo, deputy district attorney at Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, and senior associate at Downey Band LLP.
Kenner earned a Juris Doctor degree from Brigham Young University.
Erin Mellon was appointed assistant director of the Public Affairs Office (PAO) by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. in August 2017.
Mellon served as communications and outreach advisor for the Natural Resources Agency since 2016. Mellon has been acting as the communications manager for the Oroville Spillways Emergency Response and Recovery efforts.
As assistant director of PAO, Mellon oversees 40 employees responsible for media relations, public outreach and education, web content, social media, visitors centers, and graphic, photography, and videography services.
From 2014 to 2016, Mellon was communications director at ChargePoint. She was director at Mercury Public Affairs from 2013 to 2014 and a communications consultant for the California State Assembly Speaker's Office of Member Services in 2013. Mellon was an associate deputy media and political specialist at the Dewey Square Group from 2011 to 2013 and deputy campaign manager at Victor Chaltiel for Mayor from 2010 to 2011.Mellon, a graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science with a minor in English.
Kasey Schimke was appointed assistant director of the Legislative Affairs Office in May 2007. His responsibilities include monitoring and guiding legislation and representing us before the State Legislature. He also assists the director in policy discussions with the Governor's Office, government agencies, and private groups.
Prior to his appointment, Schimke served as personal staff to several members of the California State Legislature for more than 8 years. From 2000 to 2005 he served as staff to the Assembly Budget Committee. Schimke's assignment to the Committee included reviewing the budgets of the departments of the Resources Agency, CalEPA, and the Department of Food and Agriculture. During this time, he was involved in reviewing funding proposals and crafting implementing legislation relating to the nearly $9.3 billion in environmental protection bonds approved by voters between 2000 and 2002. From 2005 to 2007, Schimke served as staff to State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny, where he worked on a broad range of issues, including water policy, state budget, social services, agriculture, Indian gaming, and tribal sovereignty.
Anecita Agustinez has served as our tribal policy advisor since August 2013. Agustinez has over 30 years of advocacy experience on behalf of California’s Native American tribes. She provides policy support and recommendations regarding tribal issues to the director and chief deputy director and has been actively engaged with our projects and programs, assisting with tribal consultation and development of the DWR Tribal Consultation Policy.Before joining DWR, Agustinez served as the Native American liaison and manager of the Office of Legislative and External Affairs and the Office of Health Access at the Department of Health Care Services. She previously served as the assistant director of the Office of Native American Affairs at the Department of Justice in the Office of the Attorney General. Her experience includes developing and conducting training in the areas of tribal consultation and cultural competency. Agustinez studied political science at Stanford University and is a tribal citizen of the Dine (Navajo) nation.
was appointed the Chief of the Internal Audits Office on October 2, 2017. Whitsell initially joined DWR as a Senior Management Auditor in 2005. In 2008, he left DWR for a Chief Auditor position with the California Department of Public Health. He returned to DWR’s Internal Audits Office in 2012, where he has been in charge of special investigations and complex audit assignments. Throughout his career, he has worked as an auditor for the Department of Social Services, the Employment Development Department, and the Department of Insurance. Whitsell has also been a program manager at the Department of Health Services overseeing $1.8 billion in funding for hospitals that treat indigent patients.
As Chief, Whitsell provides management consultation and recommendations to the Directorate, particularly in areas of internal controls and risk management, and will have responsibility for planning, coordinating, and managing the activities of the Internal Audits Office.
Whitsell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the California State University, Sacramento.
Prior to assuming her current role, Varrelman served as the executive advisor to the deputy director of Business Operations beginning in 2008 and was involved in a wide array of initiatives, including the Safety Project and Enterprise Budget Planning Project. Previously, she served as an administrative officer for the Departmental Services Office and an analyst responsible for drafting enterprise policies and procedures in the Management Analysis Office. Varrelman also served on the Change Management Team for the Next Wave SAP Migration Project.
Varrelman received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of California, Davis, and a Master of Arts degree in history from California State University, Sacramento.
California Department of Water Resources
1416 9th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
California Department of Water Resources
P.O. Box 942836
Sacramento, CA 94236-0001