Tue, Apr

Shenanigans At the Met (LA Metropolitan Water District)?

Adel Hagekhalill (L)  Jeff Kightlinger (R)

THE EASTSIDER - Recently I discovered that there are some odd happenings going on at the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), headquartered her in Los Angeles.  The questions involve the transition as General Manager Jeff Kightlinger retired. 

In digging around for this story, it appears that back door politics may have led the Board of Directors into a change of leadership, with veteran Jeff Kightlinger stepping down and LA City’s Adel Hagekhalill replacing Jeff.  Here’s the back story. 

As usual in Los Angeles politics, it turns out that Hagekhalil is a buddy of Eric Garcetti (yes, him) sucking up to get Garcetti’s DWP to concentrate on recycling sewage water and somehow getting more stormwater fit to drink.  As the LA Times put it: 

“The Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors voted this month to select Adel Hagekhalil to lead the agency, The Times has learned, replacing longtime head honcho Jeff Kightlinger, who is retiring. Hagekhalil runs L. A’s Bureau of Street Services and was previously second-in-command at the city’s sanitation department.

Metropolitan finds itself at a crossroads after 15 years under Kightlinger’s leadership. The agency delivers huge amounts of water from the Colorado River and Northern California, and has prided itself on hammering out complex deals to protect the region’s water rights and investments. But those far-flung resources are becoming less dependable as the planet heats up.

In Los Angeles, Hagekhalil has played a key role in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plans to limit reliance on water imports by recycling sewage water and capturing stormwater before it reaches the ocean. His selection could mark at least a partial shift in focus for Metropolitan, and a fresh start for an agency that has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment.” 


The history of water districts in the State of California is byzantine, shrouded  beneath the radar, and involves hundreds, maybe thousands, of individual Districts.  In this maze, the Metropolitan Water District is the 800 Pound Gorilla. As Wikipedia put it: 

“The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a regional wholesaler and the largest supplier of treated water in the United States. The name is usually shortened to "Met," "Metropolitan," or "MWD." It is a cooperative of fourteen cities, eleven municipal water districts, and one county water authority, that provides water to 19 million people in a 5,200-square-mile (13,000 km2) service area. It was created by an act of the California State Legislature in 1928, primarily to build and operate the Colorado River Aqueduct. Metropolitan became the first (and largest) contractor to the State Water Project in 1960.

Metropolitan owns and operates an extensive range of capital facilities including the Colorado River Aqueduct which runs from an intake at Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border to its endpoint at the Lake Mathews reservoir in Riverside County. It also imports water supplies from northern California via the 444-mile (715 km) California Aqueduct as a contractor to the State Water Project. In 1960, Metropolitan became the first (and largest) contractor to the State Water Project. Metropolitan's extensive water system includes three major reservoirs, six smaller reservoirs, 830 miles (1,340 km) of large-scale pipes, about 400 connections to member agencies, 16 hydroelectric facilities and five water treatment plants.

It serves parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The district covers the coastal and most heavily populated portions of Southern California; however large portions of San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties are located outside of its service area.

The Metropolitan headquarters is in downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to historic Union Station.” 

The Backstory

As to the politics.  Jeffrey Kightlinger had been the General Manager of the MWD since back in 2006. It was a 15 year run, making him the longest serving GM in Met’s history. And in recent years he had to deal with the shrinking water supply as Climate Change reduces what comes from sources like the Sierra snowpack, and the Colorado River reported significant declines in their ability to get enough water to the MWD. 

This article may get split into more than one post, since as usual the real story is technical, internally political, and has little to do with Agelenos as well as most of the State of California getting water The Met administration consists of 26 member agencies, and a Board of 38 members!   That’s over twice the size of the LA City Council, and more than seven times the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors! 

When the knives came out, the LA Times got it right when an article titled After a bitter fight southern California’s water kingpin has a new leader

“Hagekhalil was previously second in command at the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, where he helped develop strategies for cutting the city’s use of imported water — and therefore its reliance on Metropolitan. He said he’ll bring a shift in focus to the agency, putting more emphasis on recycling sewage water, capturing rainwater and cleaning up groundwater aquifers.” 

Actually, at the time he was hired by Met, Garcetti had appointed him as the Department head of the Bureau of of Street Services.  Previously he was the Assistant Director of the LA Sanitation Department, where he was Garcetti’s champion of the Mayor’s One Water LA Plan. 

If you have any doubt that Hagekhalil was another back door Eric Garcetti special, L. A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called Hagekhalil the right person to address those challenges. 

“Adel is a proven leader and a visionary public servant who sees every policy decision through a lens of sustainability and conservation, and knows the importance of reducing our reliance on imported water,” Garcetti said in a written statement.

“There’s never been a more critical time for our region to lead the charge toward smarter uses of our precious natural resources, and I have no doubt that Adel will rise to the challenge of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-make our water future.” 

For those who don’t follow all the Mayor’s projects, OneWaterLA had a lofty goal: 

“The City of Los Angeles has completed the One Water LA 2040 Plan. The Plan is a roadmap, connecting plans, ideas, and people to arrive at better and fiscally-responsible water planning solutions. Collaboration is the foundation of the One Water LA planning process. The Plan identifies projects, programs and policies that will yield sustainable, long-term water supplies for Los Angeles and will provide greater resiliency to drought conditions and climate change.” 

Of course, like most of Garcetti’s plans, the due date of all this is 2040, long after the Mayor has left for greener fields. 

As suffering Angelenos know all to well, this is the same kind of drivel that drove his choices for Department Heads in the City of Los Angeles as they took the oath.  For Hagekhalil, who was only the Assistant Department Head of the Bureau of Sanitation, it bought him  a Department Head gig 

My personal guess as to why Adel Hagekhalil got the job was that the 38 Board members wanted someone they could control. Jeffrey Kightlinger was a big time Water guy, and independent. 

I’m digging around, and we’ll soon take an in depth look at the machinations which played in Kightlinger’s ‘retirement’ and the coronation of Adil Hagekhalil. 

Stay tuned... 


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatchLA.com.)