Delta tunnel project leader steps down


The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) announced earlier this month that Executive Director Kathryn Mallon has stepped down from that role and will now serve as a senior advisor

“I’m immensely proud of the work that we have accomplished at the DCA,” said Mallon. “However, the nature of the upcoming work is shifting, and it feels like a good time to return to my roots in design and construction of major infrastructure projects while the proposed project undergoes California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis. I appreciate the confidence this board has placed in me and I look forward to continuing to serve the DCA as a senior advisor going forward.”

Formed in 2018, the DCA was assigned the responsibility to staff, design, contract, construct and finance the now-defunct California WaterFix project by a joint exercise of powers agreement between the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the DCA. When Gov. Gavin Newsom pulled the plug on WaterFix’s twin-tunnel plan in April 2019 and replaced it with the single-tunnel Delta Conveyance Project, DCA’s authority transitioned to the new project. DWR is responsible for overseeing the DCA’s work.

Mallon joined the DCA as executive director in January 2019, shortly before Newsom’s decision to end WaterFix. Graham Bradner will serve as the DCA Executive Director moving forward on an initial interim basis. Bradner previously led the DCA’s levee team, assisted the engineering design manager, and is a frequent contributor in the stakeholder engagement committee process.

“We are very appreciative of Ms. Mallon’s efforts and accomplishments,” said DCA President Richard Atwater. The DCA is very well-positioned to move forward through the planning phase of Delta Conveyance, and this is due in large part to Kathryn’s hard work.”

During Mallon’s tenure as executive director, the DCA established the Stakeholder Engagement Committee (SEC). Approximately twenty public members including ex-officio members representing government agencies comprise the SEC. Members offer feedback on technical and engineering issues related to DCA activities and the impact that those activities may have on the people who live, work and recreate in the Delta region.

Mallon also oversaw the launch of DWR’s Community Benefit Program. The program attempts to address the potential adverse effects that communities may have to endure during long periods of disruption caused by the construction of large-scale projects like the proposed DCP.

“(I) came from New York, and you just didn’t do a big project in New York that impacted the communities without making sure that the communities that were impacted got to participate in some way in the success of the project,” Mallon said. “There’s a perception out there that we’re trying to buy off the Delta, and I can understand why people have the perspective. That’s a natural perspective. But that is not the route of this program. This is something that DWR and the DCA feel strongly about. There needs to be a shared benefit in this program. Constructing the project is not going to create some huge benefit for the community. So we need to provide that benefit in other ways.”

Within the SEC, there has been opposition to a perceived shift away from discussion of the DCP’s design and engineering to a focus on community benefits. As reported previously, Karen Mann, SEC member and president of the Discovery Bay-based Save the California Delta Alliance, has called for a boycott of a series of public meetings planned by DWR to seek input on possible community benefits should the DCP be approved.

“I urge you not to register or go to any of these workshops,” wrote Mann. “This is simply DWR’s way of duping Delta residents into helping them get their giant water grab tunnel project approved.”

Sean Wirth, who represented several environment groups on the SEC, resigned from his position stating in a letter to Mallon that with the change in focus, he felt his usefulness to the committee had come to an end.

“The groups that I represent, including Sierra Club California, are still firmly opposed to the Delta Conveyance Project (DCP) and feel that participating in the Community Benefits Agreement runs counter to that opposition,” wrote Wirth.

Mallon also ruffled feathers in April 2020 when she insisted that the work of the SEC continue even as the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic was expanding. Several SEC members including Mann and Wirth, implored the DCA to pause the committee’s efforts, but those requests were largely ignored and the work proceeded.

Still, Mallon had support from both opponents and proponents of the DCP.

“I think it’s a huge loss for everybody – for the program, for the state, for the people of the Delta – because she was experienced and confident enough in her role to do things like force the engagement of the Delta,” said David Gloski, Bethel Island resident and SEC member. “The Stakeholder Engagement Committee was pretty much her idea, and she made sure that happened. It was important to her that she do good things for the Delta and community benefits. She really cared. Everybody was fortunate to have her, and it’s really disappointing that she’s not going to be back.”