Tom McCarthy named new head of Kern County Water Agency

March 4, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

Contract highlights

Base Pay – $380,016 per year
Relocation fees – $60,000
Vacation – 4 weeks per year
Term – March 30, 2020 to June 30, 2025
Deferred comp  – Under standard benefits, McCarthy can receive a match of up to 3% of gross base pay per biweekly pay period (if he contributes a like amount), and $100 per pay period regardless of his contribution. Plus the Agency will contribute $30,000.10 annually into his 401(a) fund on top of regular benefits.
Payout for termination without cause – Any unpaid salary, benefits, vacation through date of termination PLUS lump sum severance of base salary and vacation for either 15 months or the remainder of the contract term, whichever is less.

Read Tom McCarthy’s contract here.
Read Agency’s standard benefits here.

Tom McCarthy resume (from LinkedIn)


  • June 2017 – March 2020
    Mojave Water Agency, General Manager and Chief Engineer
    Location: Apple Valley, California
    Responsible for day to day operations of Mojave Water Agency, providing oversight and support to all departments. Works closely with the Board of Directors and Legal Counsel, and ensures that policy decisions set by the Board are carried out by the staff, and that Strategic Goals of the Agency are implemented.
  • July 2015 – June 2017
    City of Anaheim, Water Resources and Planning Manager
    Location: Anaheim, California
    Oversaw and participated in management of the Anaheim Public Utility water resources, planning and development. Optimization of water resources for supply and planning for =resources management in the future. Oversaw all water development projects for City’s Public Utility.
  • Sept. 2009 – July 2015
    MWH, Principal Project Technical Lead
    Managed Environmental Planning and Science Technology group for MWH’s Southwestern US business unit. This group included technologists working on surface water hydrology; flood control; groundwater hydrology; water, wastewater, and supply portfolio master planning; stormwater monitoring and permitting; and asset management. Area of focus: Creative water resources solutions, system optimization, water supply planning, and numerical modeling.
  • Nov. 2006 – Sept. 2009
    Wildermuth Environmental, Inc., associate
    Served as the Manager of the Engineering Group for Wildermuth Environmental and Project Manager to deliver water resource solutions to clients throughout California.
  • June 2005 – Oct. 2006
    Mammoth Community Water District, associate engineer
    Managed portions of the District water and sewer master planning process by coordinating modelers and GIS team members to evaluate water and wastewater systems. Also managed a connection fee study to determine long term capital planning and funding requirements; he also lead the design and construction of a series of new District monitoring wells in the Mammoth Basin.
  • 1998 – 2005
    MWH, senior engineer
  • May 1997 – Sept. 1997
    U.S. Geological Survey, intern
    Location: Denver area
    Utilized public records to assist in mapping Denver Basin. Assisted in the review and processing numerous files to development of databases and GIS files to represent the physical system.
  • June 1995 – Dec. 1995
    Leighton and Associates, Inc., geologist intern
    Location: Irvine, CA
    Logged trenches and borings for lithology and geotechnical properties.


  • University of California, Los Angeles, Master’s degreeCivil Engineering,  1997-1998
  • University of Oregon, Bachelor of Sciences Geological Sciences, 1992 – 1996

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Tom McCarthy, head of the Mojave Water Agency, was named as the new General Manager for the Kern County Water Agency at its board of directors meeting Thursday.

Agency directors approved a five-year contract for McCarthy including total compensation “not to exceed $415,000 annually,” plus $60,000 in relocation fees.

“This was a very difficult decision for me,” McCarthy said Friday. “I’m excited to lead an agency like Kern but I’ve been very happy here at Mojave.”

He said he was attracted to Kern because of its size, complexity and “there are so many passionate stakeholders. That was very interesting to me.”

Though he noted the agency’s most pressing challenge, like most water agencies in the state, is how to make up for the reduced reliability of the State Water Project, he wasn’t sure yet of how much of his time would be focused on statewide issues versus local.

“I’m still trying to get a feel for the relationship between the member units and the agency.”

The agency has 13 “member units,” or agricultural water districts that contract through the agency for about a million acre feet of State Water Project water.

Those water districts can be a contentious bunch, each with its own unique concerns.

The agency is also very much a public entity, with part of its funding coming from property and pump taxes.

McCarthy isn’t a stranger to controversy and a diverse group of stakeholders. The Mojave agency covers nearly 5,000 square miles in the high desert area of San Bernardino County. It acts as a wholesaler to a variety of water retailers including the city of Victorville. It is also the watermaster for the area, executing a court order that apportions water for a large part of its territory.

The Mojave agency has been both creative and aggressive in dealing with its water issues. It created one of the first water markets in the state and has a robust outreach program for residents. It has also made some significant water purchases. In 2009, it paid Kings County farmer John Vidovich $73 million for rights to 5,000 acre feet of State Water Project water.

McCarthy will go from overseeing 40 employees and a $50 million annual budget at the Mojave agency, to 60 employees and a $365 million budget at the Kern agency.

McCarthy’s total pay at Mojave in 2018 was $244,660 plus benefits of $46,807 for a total compensation package of $291,467, according to Transparent California.

In Kern, McCarthy will earn a base salary of $380,016 per year plus benefits for a total package of $416,000, according to his contract.

Though the amount of McCarthy’s compensation raised some eyebrows in the Kern agency’s board room on Thursday, comments about McCarthy were all positive.

”I don’t know him personally, but I’ve seen his leadership style and I think we’ve got a good hire,” said Kern Delta Water District General Manager Mark Mulkay.

Agency board members who have met with McCarthy described him as measured and thoughtful.

“This is the single biggest decision this board will make,” said Director Gene Lundquist, noting that agency general managers tend to stick around. “They don’t leave in just a year or two.”

Despite the high pay and prestige of running the second-largest contractor on the State Water Project, McCarthy did not apply for the job.

It was Director Ted Page who pursued McCarthy after watching how he handled himself as the lead representative for State Water Contractors during negotiations with the Department of Water Resources over the proposed “delta tunnel.”

The tunnel project, which was reduced from two tunnels to one when Gov. Newsom took office, would move water from the Sacramento River under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a means of protecting water supply in case of an earthquake and to avoid impacts to threatened fish.

It is extremely controversial among environmental groups and delta farmers who argue it is another water grab by farms and cities to the south.

Negotiations were highly charged but Page said McCarthy calmly and intelligently represented water contractors.

After watching McCarthy in those negotiations, Page reached out to him and had an initial meeting in Lancaster shortly after Thanksgiving.

It took some coaxing to get McCarthy to consider the Kern job, said Page. In fact, he said, it was the agency’s General Counsel Amelia Minaberrigarai who did most of the heavy lifting, answering questions and touring McCarthy and his family around Bakersfield.

McCarthy’s official start date is March 30 but he won’t be on full time until sometime in June, after his high-school-aged children are able to make the move.

During that time, Minaberrigarai will continue handling some of the General Manager duties, as she has since former General Manager Curtis Creel announced his retirement last September.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board also amended  Minaberrigarai’s contract to include an extra $100,000 and 200 hours of vacation for her continuing efforts as acting General Manager. That is on top of her annual salary of $308,006.40 (after a 15 percent raise last year) and 200 hours vacation.

Just before announcing his retirement, Creel earned $292,530 in total pay plus $166,690 in benefits, for a total package of $459,220 in 2018, according to Transparent California.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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