A national search for a new chief at the Santa Clara Valley Water District netted an empty catch, so the agency in charge of the South Bay’s flood control and drinking water stuck with a familiar face.
Norma Camacho, the interim CEO since March 2016, will assume the role on a permanent basis after a split vote last week by the district’s board of directors. The decision, still to be finalized, was made after the board conducted two rounds of interviews with final candidates.
In a statement, board chair John Varela lauded Camacho’s “ability to lead this complex organization through major challenges in reducing flood risks, providing a reliable water supply and protecting our watersheds.”
The press release made no mention of the February flood in San Jose that caused more than a hundred million dollars in property damage, displaced hundreds of residents and might have been preventable had the district looked at installing low-tech pumps at Anderson Dam.
A district employee since 2012, after leaving the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, Camacho is considered a safe choice. But she was far from a consensus pick, as her appointment was made on a 4-3 vote, according to a source.
In many ways, Camacho represents a hedge in moving away from the old guard, or “water buffalos,” an industry term that refers to older male executives who are a little too certain of their expertise. Despite reportedly having a rocky relationship with former CEO Beau Goldie, Camacho offered zero public criticism of her predecessor, who broke district bylaws by giving public money to a consultant with loads of conflicts of interest.
However, she has instituted some internal changes by firing or nudging several top administrators out the door in the last year. This includes former chief administrative officer Jesus Nava and chief operating officer Jim Fiedler, who was in charge of the district’s emergency flood control operations in February.
Camacho’s appointment will be finalized at an upcoming board meeting.
Below is the full press release sent out by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
On Thursday, July 27, the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors selected Norma Camacho as the chief executive officer of the water district. Camacho has served as interim CEO since March 2016.
This selection follows a nationwide search for the water district’s new executive, with support from the executive search firm Korn Ferry. The board conducted two rounds of interviews with the final candidates.
Her new position will become effective after the board has formally approved the terms and conditions of an employment contract at an upcoming regular board meeting.
“Ms. Camacho has demonstrated her ability to lead this complex organization through major challenges in reducing flood risks, providing a reliable water supply and protecting our watersheds,” said Board Chair John L. Varela. “The board has great confidence that our new CEO will help us provide the vital services our community needs and expects.”
“I feel honored to be chosen to lead this dynamic organization at a crucial time in its history,” said Ms. Camacho. “With major investments in water supply infrastructure, environmental work and flood protection improvements in our near future, it’s a challenging, yet exciting time for all of us who work every day to serve the people of Santa Clara County.”
As for her priorities, Ms. Camacho said, “We must focus on preparing for future wet and dry years to ensure our residents have a reliable water supply, no matter what extreme weather the changing climate brings. We are committed to protecting our environment and are working to restore habitat along creeks and the bay, clean toxins from the water, and make sure water is used efficiently. And we remain dedicated to keeping residents and businesses safe through our flood protection programs.”
Prior to her appointment as interim CEO, Ms. Camacho was the district’s chief operating officer for Watersheds Operations. She joined the water district in March 2012.
Ms. Camacho has more than 25 years of long-range planning, program development, finance, and capital projects experience. Before she joined Santa Clara Valley Water District, she was the director of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, directing day-to-day operations of a 142-person organization with a budget of $59 million. Prior to that position she served in the Ventura County Executive Office as deputy executive director of finance and budgets.
Ms. Camacho holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering (structural) from Stanford University. She is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Public Works Association.
She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California Urban Water Agencies, WateReuse, Bay Area Council, the Silicon Valley Organization, and San Jose Evergreen Community College Foundation. She is also a member of the Santa Clara City Managers’ Association and the Bay Area Water Agencies Coalition.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District manages an integrated water resources system that includes the supply of clean, safe water, flood protection and stewardship of streams on behalf of Santa Clara County's nearly 1.9 million residents. The district effectively manages 10 dams and surface water reservoirs, three water treatment plants, a state-of-the-art water quality laboratory, nearly 400 acres of groundwater recharge ponds and more than 275 miles of streams. We provide wholesale water and groundwater management services to local municipalities and private water retailers who deliver drinking water directly to homes and businesses throughout Santa Clara County.