VOM Water District in flux
Many officials have nearly drowned in area water issues in the past, but not Krishna Kumar. If there’s one thing that people in Sonoma Valley agree on about the Valley of the Moon Water District (VOMWD) it’s that Kumar is leaving it better off than he found it. Kumar, who has led the board as general manager for the past eight years, announced Friday he will be stepping down as of Dec. 7. He will not be going far, however.
After 14 years serving the area’s water needs in one form or another – before taking on the GM mantle at VOMWD, Kumar was a division manager in finance at the Sonoma County Water Agency – the 20-year Sonoma resident is moving to Marin, where he will lead the Marin Municipal Water District.
“There is no higher calling in public life than being able to provide round-the-clock access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water to the community you live in,” said Kumar. “It’s very satisfying to meet that objective.”
During his tenure, Kumar added significantly to the Valley’s water storage capacity, improved pipelines through a rigorous replacement plan and kept water rates low, with increases in line with the rate of inflation. But it may be a recent development, and a hope for further improvements in the future, of which Kumar is most proud.
“The district was lucky enough to partner with the Sonoma County Water Agency and IBM on a first-of-its-kind project, a cutting-edge application development – funded by IBM – focused on pressure management. The software that they are currently working on, if fully developed, could be a tool used industry wide,” he said. “I’m thrilled that they chose Valley of the Moon Water District to be the testing ground for that kind of cutting-edge application.”
“Krishna brought a rare sense of energy, enthusiasm, and financial acumen to the district’s operations,” board Vice President Ron Prushko said in a statement. That financial acumen enabled Kumar to overcome the challenge presented by declining water sales revenues over the past few years (revenues dropped across all of California due to a variety of factors, including robust conservation programs and mild weather).
“I think I am leaving the district in very, very good shape,” said Kumar, “but whoever would follow me would take it to the next level in a different kind of way, I am hoping.”
Immediately after Kumar announced he was leaving, Mark Bramfitt, the board’s elected director and its sitting president, resigned, opening a vacancy for his position as well.
Bramfitt told the Index-Tribune that he intends to seek the general manager position vacated by Kumar, and resigned as quickly as possible to avoid any possible appearance of impropriety (in the past, the board has been directly responsible for hiring the general manager, though no procedure is currently in place for the hunt for Kumar’s replacement). Bramfitt, an energy and IT consultant whose bid to succeed Valerie Brown as 1st District Supervisor ended in the June primary, has served on the VOMWD board for 12 years and is chair of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Basin Advisory Panel.
“I’m looking for that position that has a lot of meaning and does a lot of good,” said Bramfitt, “My experience in water would lead me to do that job well.”
With a laugh, he pointed to “Hiring Krishna,” as the board’s most important accomplishment in the 12 years he’s sat on it. Of course, he’s only half joking. “When I joined the board, they had gone through a period of about 15 years where they hadn’t raised rates at all. And they had not invested in the infrastructure. They did repairs, but they didn’t do any pipeline replacements or any other additions to the system,” Bramfitt said. “In the last 12 years, we’ve put in two new tanks, we’ve replaced some very important water lines, and are continuing to do so. We’ve installed one new well, and are planning others.”
The vacancy created by Bramfitt’s departure will be announced officially at a special meeting of the board today, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. in El Verano. The vacancy left by Russ Townsend’s departure from the board in September had recently been filled by Jon Foreman. “Russ, who’s an attorney,” said Bramfitt, “really brought a lot to the board, helping us through some negotiation dances and legal issues.”
The board will also soon move to appoint an interim general manager to fill in after Kumar leaves in early December, while they conduct a search for a permanent replacement.
Whoever is called upon to replace Kumar will have the benefit of not only inheriting a well-run district, but might be able to call upon his predecessor’s expertise. “I’m not going too far. Just a phone call away. Maybe 40 minutes drive,” said Kumar. “This is an area I’ve considered home for the last 20 years. It means a lot to me.”