Controversial acting DWR Director Bill Croyle, who led state response to Oroville Dam crisis, retires

By Dan Bacher | June 25, 2017

Bill Croyle, the controversial California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Acting Director who oversaw the state’s response to the Oroville Dam spillway crisis, on June 23 announced his retirement, effective July 1, 2017, in an official news release from the embattled state agency.  

Cindy Messer, the agency's Chief Deputy Director, will serve as Acting Director of the department until a new director is appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.

“I am honored to have served with many talented, dedicated people throughout my career,” stated Croyle.  “I am very proud of the work we have accomplished over the years bringing California through drought, flood and most recently, through the Oroville Spillway incident. And now I’m looking forward to picking up my retirement plans where they left off six months ago.”

Not only did Croyle oversee the widely-criticized handling of the Oroville Dam crisis that led to the chaotic evacuation of 188,000 residents of Butte, Yuba and Sutter Counties on one hour’s notice on February 12, but he and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird have served as the primary promoters of Governor Jerry Brown's widely-opposed Delta Tunnels plan.

Keeping the public in the dark

The issuing of a press release to announce his retirement was apparently the result of the increasing national and international media scrutiny of DWR in light of the agency’s flawed response to the Oroville Dam complex disaster. Prior to this announcement, DWR often kept the public in the dark about its staff changes and other matters. It was only after internal documents were anonymously leaked to me that I was able to expose in December that the top two DWR officials were leaving.

On December 18, I made public the appointment of Croyle as the Acting Director after obtaining an internal memo from Secretary John Laird, the California Secretary for Natural Resources, sent to DWR employees on December 13.  

Croyle replaced Mark Cowin, who retired after 36 years with the agency, including nearly 7 years as DWR Director, on December 31, 2016. Cowin retired at the same time that Carl Torgersen, the DWR Chief Deputy Director at the time, retired from the agency. 

Earlier in December, after hearing unconfirmed reports from political insiders that the two officials were retiring, I confirmed the news of the two officials' retirement when Nancy Vogel, Deputy Secretary for Communications of the California Natural Resources Agency, responded to my email. More information:

Apparently all of the media attention focused on DWR’s questionable handling of the Oroville Dam spillway crisis spurred the agency to issue an official press release about Croyle's retirement, rather than leaving the public and media in the dark about what was going on, as is so often their modus operandi.

The DWR press release said Croyle put his original retirement plans on hold in January 2017 when Governor Brown asked him to serve as Acting Director of the department.

Secretary John Laird praises Croyle’s “leadership”

“California is extremely fortunate to have had Bill at the helm of DWR this year, especially during the Oroville emergency,” claimed Secretary John Laird. “We are all grateful for his commitment and public service.”

Prior to his appointment, Croyle served as Deputy Director for Statewide Emergency Preparedness and Security at the Department.  In nearly ten years with DWR, Croyle served as the Drought Emergency Operations Manager, representing the department on Governor Brown’s Interagency Drought Task Force and various other drought task forces, according to DWR.

He also served as the Department Emergency Program Manager and spent more than six years as Chief of Flood Operations. In addition, Croyle worked more than 23 years for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Sacramento, where “he served in a variety of capacities,” said DWR. 

New Acting Director Messer coordinated preparation and implementation of invalid Delta Plan

The Governor appointed Cindy Messer, the new Acting Director, as the Department of Water Resources’ Chief Deputy Director in February 2017. Prior to this appointment, Cindy had been DWR’s Assistant Chief Deputy Director, “serving 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,”  DWR stated.

Messer served as the Deputy Director of the Planning, Performance and Technology Division at the Delta Stewardship Council from 2012 until her appointment at DWR. As Deputy Director she coordinated the preparation and implementation of the controversial Delta Plan.

On this day one year ago, Judge Michael Kenny of the Sacramento Superior Court ruled that the Delta Plan that Messer worked on  was "invalid" after a successful legal challenge by multiple Delta parties who argued that the plan is not protective of the water quality or the fish species that depend on fresh water flows for their survival. More information:    

The retirement comes at a critical time for the Department of the Water Resources. Not only has DWR faced intense criticism over its handling of the Oroville Dam crisis, but it faces growing opposition to the Delta Tunnels (California WaterFix) project that it is the lead state agency for.

In spite of massive opposition by fishermen, family farmers, environmentalists and Delta residents who packed a room in the Holiday Inn in Sacramento Thursday, the Delta Stewardship Council voted to endorse controversial conveyance and storage amendments to the Delta Plan that project opponents say will hasten the approval of DWR’s Delta Tunnels proposal.

“I am very disappointed that the Council approved a policy that favors big money water exporters over the Delta,” said Mike Brodsky, lawyer for the Save the Delta Alliance (STDA), in response to the decision. “Several Council members seemed not to be fully informed on what they were voting for and had an incomplete understanding of the Delta and its residents as well as inadequate information on how the water export system works and what the WaterFix project will do.”

“We will continue our efforts to educate Council members and seek changes in their one-sided policy as the environmental review process goes forward. Litigation may be required because of some of the mis-steps the Council made on Thursday. Nevertheless, we will continue our educational efforts to make real the stated intent of several Council members to protect the Delta—regardless of any new and the existing ongoing litigation,” he concluded.

More information:

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