Metropolitan Water District Board Hires Adel Hagekhalil as New General Manager

By Dan Bacher | 

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Board of Directors voted on June 8 to formally hire Adel Hagekhalil, a civil and environmental engineer and national water and infrastructure leader, as its next general manager.

His term will begin on July 6, 2021. Hagekhalil received 16 yes votes and one no vote, with 18 absentions and three directors absent. That’s a 50.42% majority for Hagekhalil, according to the district’s weighted voting rule. 

The 38-member board’s approval of Hagekhalil’s contract will make him the 14th general manager in the district’s 93-year history. 

Adel Hagekhalil. | 
His appointment comes at a crucial time for the district as a record drought parches California and a coalition of Southern California water ratepayers, environmental justice groups, Tribal leaders, conservation organizations and community groups oppose the controversial Delta Tunnel that the previous general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, was an ardent supporter of.

Sierra Club California, who joined with the L.A. Waterkeeper, Azul, Restore the Delta, Food and Water Action and other environmental groups in supporting Hagenhalil’s hiring, noted that vote came after nearly two hours of public comment.

A total of 64 members of the public, including district residents and representatives of labor, environmental justice, and conservation groups, called into the meeting in support of Mr. Hagekhalil. No members of the public called in to oppose his hiring.

“Several callers noted the delegation from Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC)’s attempts to derail Mr. Hagekhalil, as detailed in the LA Times, the OC Register, and the Daily News,” according to a statement from the Club. “The behind-the-scenes struggle over the agency’s leadership comes as severe drought wreaks havoc on Southern California’s water systems, deepening divisions over the path forward for MWD, which is tasked with supplying water to millions of Californian.”

After the vote, Hagekhalil thanked the Board for their support of him.

“I am grateful to the entire Metropolitan board of directors for the opportunity to lead this organization, which is so important to the lives and livelihoods of Southern Californians,” Hagekhalil said. “As we move forward, I am determined to focus on what unites us and pursue a unified agenda that includes and works for every member agency. Working together, I believe Metropolitan can continue confronting the challenges we face to ensure water reliability for all our member agencies and communities we serve with focus on our underserved communities while engaging our diverse stakeholders and empowering our staff.”

Both MWD leaders and environmental groups praised Hagekhalil's hiring.

“Mr. Hagekhalil is a highly respected leader on wastewater and water reuse who will help Metropolitan continue on its path to invest in sustainable water supplies,” Chairwoman Gloria D. Gray said in a statement. “His commitment to innovation, sustainability and working together, as a united Metropolitan board, will be critical as we face the challenges climate change is bringing to Southern California’s water supplies.” 

Sierra Club representatives thanked the Board for making the decision to hire Hagekhalil and said they looked forward to working with him.

"We are pleased that the Board members made this decision,” said Charming Evelyn, Chair of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Water Committee said. “This is a new Chapter for MWD and its employees. Hopefully, Adel will continue to welcome us all to the table including our Tribal Nations. They have been left out of the water conversation for far too long."

“It was a long road to get here - over a year of this hiring process and months of organizing - but we are extremely pleased with the decision to hire an outside candidate,” said Caty Wagner, Southern California Water Organizer for Sierra Club CA said. “I want to thank the board members that voted for Mr. Hagekhalil. And I know his hiring would not have been possible without the work of Sierra Club volunteers and the environmental community to call for the agency to start prioritizing water sustainability and environmental justice. We look forward to working with Mr. Hagekhalil.”

On May 28, a broad coalition of groups sent a letter to the board supporting the hiring of Adel Hagekhalil: “This is the right choice during this time to heal the organization and prepare our region in the face of persistent drought and changing climate. We look forward to partnering with you and the new GM on creating a healthy, safe and collaborative work environment at MWD.”

Organizations signing on to the letter included: Amigos de los Rios, Angeles Chapter Water Committee Chair, Azul, Better World Group Advisors, California Coastal Protection Network, California Coastkeeper Alliance, California Indian Environmental Alliance (CIEA), Clean Water Action, Climate Resolve, Desal Response Group, EJCW, Environmental Water Caucus, Food and Water Action, Friends of the River, Great Basin Water Network, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Nature for All, OurWater LA Coalition, Restore the Delta, San Diego Coastkeeper, San Francisco Baykeeper, Save the Colorado, SEE-LA (Social Eco Education-LA), Sierra Club, South Platte River Waterkeeper, Southern California Watershed Alliance and Western Water Strategies. 

A registered civil engineer and board-certified environmental engineer, Hagekhalil was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2018 to lead StreetsLA, the department that manages and maintains Los Angeles’ vast network of streets and urban forests, including climate adaptation and multi-benefit integrated active transportation corridors, according to a press release from MWD.

Previously, he served for nearly 10 years as assistant director of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation, leading the city’s wastewater collection system, stormwater and watershed protection program, water quality compliance, and facilities and advance planning. He also helped develop the city’s 2040 One Water LA Plan, which takes a regional watershed approach to integrate water supply, water reuse, water conservation, stormwater management, and wastewater facilities planning.

Hagekhalil has also served for more than a decade as a board member on the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, including a term as president, and was named a Water Environment Federation fellow in 2019. 

Previously, he worked with President Obama on water security and for UNESCO, according to Sierra Club California.    

A cooperative of 26 member agencies, Metropolitan provides more than half the water used by 19 million people in six Southern California counties. The district’s 5,200-square-mile service area covers most of urbanized Southern California.  

In his new post, Hagekhalil will be responsible for leading Metropolitan’s daily and long- term operations, including implementing the policies of the 38-member board, according to MWD. He will also be Metropolitan’s chief spokesman and work with member agencies and federal, state and local officials to carry out Metropolitan's mission to provide water reliability to Southern California.

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