Leadership Team Delivers with Decades of Experience
The Water Authority is led by a team of professionals who are experts in their fields and share a wealth of knowledge and experience in water issues. These leaders collaborate to coordinate the operations of each department to advance the Water Authority’s mission of providing a clean and reliable water supply to the region.
Sandra L. Kerl
Sandra L. Kerl is general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, an agency responsible for providing wholesale water supplies to serve 24 member agencies, 3.3 million people and a $240 billion regional economy. Kerl joined the Water Authority as deputy general manager in November 2009 and served as acting general manager from March through November 2019 before being appointed by the Board of Directors to her current post.
As general manager, Kerl’s priorities include enhancing relations with the Water Authority’s member agencies, minimizing rate increases, concluding the long-running litigation with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and ensuring long-term water supplies for the semi-arid San Diego region.
One of Kerl’s first challenges as general manager was leading the transition to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic for about three-quarters of the Water Authority’s 250 employees. She also commissioned the first employee survey in the agency’s history as part of a larger effort to integrate different generations of employees, embrace the diversity of the agency’s workforce and empower all employees to reach their full potential.
Kerl’s career highlights in the water industry include leading the effort to secure financing for the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, a public-private partnership that was hailed as a model for other large-scale water works around the country.
Kerl has more than 35 years of progressively responsible experience in all aspects of municipal management. She served as city manager of La Mesa, California, and has broad experience with city management, extensive knowledge of organizational issues, and a pragmatic understanding of capital project management and delivery.
Kerl currently sits on the board of the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank and the California Urban Water Agencies, which represents the water suppliers that serve more than two-thirds of California’s population. Throughout her career she has been active in the International City Management Association.
Kerl received her Bachelor of Political Science from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and her Master of Business Administration from the University of Redlands.
Deputy General Manager
Dan Denham oversees the implementation of long-term agricultural-to-urban water conservation projects that are among the largest in the United States. As a commissioner on the Quantification Settlement Agreement Joint Powers Authority, he leads the Water Authority’s fulfillment of environmental mitigation obligations and legislative advocacy efforts at the Salton Sea.
As deputy general manager, Denham oversees the Engineering, MWD Program, Water Resources, Colorado River Program and Operations & Maintenance departments at the Water Authority.
Before joining the Water Authority in 2006, Denham served in various capacities at the City of San Diego’s Metropolitan Wastewater Department, Financial Management Department and Mayor’s Office. Denham holds undergraduate degrees in public administration and economics, and a graduate degree in public administration — all from San Diego State University.
The General Manager’s Office manages and directs the activities of the Water Authority staff. In particular, the office implements the Board’s Strategic Plan and policies through programs in the Business Plan; oversees the Water Authority’s extensive infrastructure system; communicates and advocates adopted policy positions and programs of the Water Authority to local, state and federal officials and agencies; and provides assistance to the Board of Directors.
Assistant General Manager
Tish Berge is assistant general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, an agency responsible for providing wholesale water supplies to serve 24 member agencies, 3.3 million people and a $240 billion regional economy. Berge joined the Water Authority as assistant general manager in February 2021, bringing more than 17 years of executive-level experience across every aspect of water utility management.
As assistant general manager, Berge oversees the Finance, Administrative Services, Government Relations, and Public Affairs departments at the Water Authority.
From 2017 to 2021 Berge served as general manager of the Sweetwater Authority, leading the agency to earn a “District of Distinction” award from the Special District Leadership Foundation for demonstrating sound fiscal management policies and practices – an award given to only 2% of special districts.
Prior to her service with the Sweetwater Authority, Berge served as Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District’s director of administration and finance where she implemented a 10-year financial model to drive policy decisions related to debt issuance, Capital Improvement Projects, and water rates. Berge also served as assistant general manager for San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, where she helped the organization earn the 2006 California Water Environment Association Plant of the Year award.
Berge holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College, and a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance from the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. She is a Certified Special District Manager and Registered Professional Engineer.
Mark J. Hattam
Mark J. Hattam was appointed to his post by the Board of Directors in March 2016. Hattam had been a partner in the San Diego office of Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis. His practice consisted of litigation in state and federal courts regarding water rights, commercial disputes, real property, insurance, environmental regulations and other issues, including an administrative hearing practice. He has represented major institutional and public-sector clients in complex civil litigation, including water transfers and water rates. In 2015, Hattam served as outside counsel for the Water Authority, successfully defending the agency against a claim that it failed to account for the environmental impacts of its long-term water supply plan. Hattam also represented the Imperial Irrigation District as trial counsel in 2013, securing validation of all environmental compliance components of the historic 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, a cornerstone of the Water Authority’s long-term water supply diversification strategy.
The General Counsel’s Office manages all legal affairs for the agency’s Board and staff. Specifically, the General Counsel ensures that Water Authority business is conducted according to all applicable state, federal, and local laws and regulations; provides legal support to meet the Water Authority’s policy goals; and represents the Water Authority, its officers and employees in litigation and administrative proceedings.
Director of Administrative Services
Jason Foster took on his current role in November 2017 after serving as the Water Authority’s Director of Public Outreach and Conservation starting in 2011 and Director of Public Affairs from 2007-2011. Prior to joining the Water Authority, Foster served as the media relations manager for San Diego State University and also worked in the San Diego region as a public affairs consultant. Foster has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
The Administrative Services Department supports the efficient operations of the Water Authority. Responsibilities include risk management, procurement and administration of the Water Authority’s business insurance (including claims management), development of policies and procedures, purchasing and regulatory compliance, procurement support for solicitation and contracts, cybersecurity, computer software management, maintenance and development of websites, acquisition and maintenance of computer hardware and cloud services, maintenance and development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) datasets, audio and visual support for conference rooms and the Board room, administration of the records management program, management of the front desk, and facility management for the Kearny Mesa building and grounds.
Director of the Colorado River Program
Kelly Rodgers has held several senior positions at the Water Authority, including project manager for the San Vicente Dam Raise Project, and then manager of the agency’s Energy Program in 2015-2017. She started in her current post in 2017. Before joining the Water Authority in 2006, Rodgers served in various capacities at the City of San Diego, including managing large-scale Capital Improvement Projects. Rodgers holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering, a master’s in business, and a doctorate in public administration. Rodgers is a registered civil engineer in California.
The Colorado River Program oversees the Imperial Irrigation District water transfer agreement, the All-American and Coachella Canal lining projects, associated environmental mitigation, including at the Salton Sea, as well as cooperative projects with the Colorado River Basin States and Mexico. The program also aims to build community and regional awareness of and support for the Water Authority in the Imperial Valley, especially relating to the mutual benefits of the Quantification Settlement Agreement and other critical Colorado River issues.
Director of Engineering
Gary Bousquet serves as the director of engineering at the San Diego County Water Authority, the regional water agency that provides about 80 percent of all the water used in San Diego County. Bousquet joined the Water Authority in 1999 and has more than 30 years of private and public sector engineering experience.
The engineering department is responsible for the design and construction of regional water facilities in the Capital Improvement and Asset Management Programs; overseeing energy related projects; managing real-estate interests; patrolling and managing 168 miles of right of way property; and providing survey services.
Before joining the Water Authority, Bousquet worked in the private sector designing and performing construction management of water and wastewater treatment projects. Bousquet graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in civil engineering from Northeastern University and is a registered civil engineer in California.
Lisa Marie Harris
Director of Finance
Lisa Marie Harris joined the Water Authority in May 2014 and has more than 23 years of financial experience in both the public and private sector, including working at the County of San Diego as chief deputy treasurer; the State Treasurer’s Office as executive director of the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission; the City and County of San Francisco; San Francisco International Airport as the Assistant Deputy Airport Director for Budget and Finance; and most recently for Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., LLC, an investment banking firm, as senior vice president. Harris received her bachelor’s degree in economics from University at California, Berkeley, and her master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan.
The Finance Department has a broad range of responsibilities for accounting, financial reporting, payroll, deferred compensation, and accounts payable and receivable (including reporting, billing and collection of water charges, budget oversight, and internal controls). The department is also responsible for investing and borrowing funds; protecting credit ratings in the investment market; developing long-range financing plans in support of the Capital Improvement Program; advising the Board on proposed policy decisions; and providing oversight of imported water activities.
Director of Human Resources
Ashley Kite joined the Water Authority in 2017 and currently directs the Water Authority’s human resources department. The five-person human resources team works to recruit and retain the Water Authority’s most valuable asset – our employees. In addition to classification, compensation, labor relations, and benefits administration, the department prides itself on partnering with all Water Authority departments to address organizational development issues, provide employee development, and resolve employee issues. Human Resources is also responsible for overseeing the Water Authority’s safety program. Kite has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California, San Diego and more than 20 years of public sector human resources experience. Prior to joining the Water Authority, she worked for the cities of Chula Vista, Santee and Palm Desert.
Director of the MWD Program
Amy Chen is a registered civil engineer in California with more than 30 years of experience in water resources engineering and planning. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from University of Southern California. Chen joined the Water Authority in 1996 to lead the Water Authority’s Los Angeles office managing the relationship with MWD’s board and member agencies, and she was named MWD Program chief in February 2008.
The Water Authority’s MWD Program supports the agency’s Board officers and MWD delegates in developing and implementing strategies to achieve the Water Authority’s supply reliability goals. Program staff works closely with other Water Authority departments, linking MWD programs and policies to the Water Authority’s management strategies and operations. The program also works closely with MWD board members and member agency managers to advocate for the Water Authority’s positions relative to MWD programs and activities.
Director of Operations & Maintenance
Eva Plajzer, a 30-year civil engineering and management professional, joined the Water Authority in 2022. Before joining the Water Authority, Plajzer served as assistant general manager at the Rancho California Water District in Riverside County, where she led the Engineering and Operations Departments. Before that, Plajzer was assistant director of engineering at Moulton Niguel Water District in Laguna Hills for nearly six years. Plajzer holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of California at Irvine, a Master of Science in Engineering from the University of California at Davis, and a Master of Public Administration from San Diego State University. She is a registered professional engineer in California and Virginia and possesses a Water Distribution Operator D2 and Treatment Operator T2. She is active with many professional associations including the WaterReuse Association where she served as Treasurer in 2004/2005; American Water Works Association; Association of California Water Agencies; and California Association of Sanitation Agencies.
The Water Authority’s O&M Department is responsible for operating the aqueduct system; ensuring facility security and emergency preparedness; and maintaining and managing the fleet and various other assets. The department controls water deliveries to meet member agency demands; manages dam and reservoir operations; ensures water quality; oversees water treatment plant and power generation operations; maintains all vehicles and heavy equipment; and implements the Aqueduct Protection Program, among other functions.
Director of Public Affairs
Denise Vedder served as the department’s senior manager for 11 years before her appointment as director in 2018, leading two award-winning drought outreach programs during that period. Before joining the Water Authority, Vedder was appointed as the first communications manager for the City of Carlsbad, where was responsible for designing and implementing a strategic communications plan and building the city’s outreach program from the ground up. Vedder also served two district attorneys as a public affairs officer. Vedder has a bachelor’s in journalism and political science from San Diego State University.
The Public Affairs Department establishes and strengthens relations with the news media, business and civic organizations, school-age children, and other stakeholders to enhance support for the Water Authority’s programs, projects, policies and services. The department employs a range of outreach tools to support water-use efficiency and communicate the Water Authority’s priorities and messages; anticipates and addresses community concerns related to Capital Improvement Program projects and repairs; and seeks to maximize the participation of small businesses on Water Authority projects and procurements.
Director of Water Resources
Kelley Gage has been with the Water Authority for more than 16 years, working in the fields of water supply planning, environmental planning, and water and regulatory policy. She started with the agency in 2001, then rejoined the Water Authority in her current position in 2018. Gage also has worked for Eastern Municipal Water District, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, and the State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She has a bachelor’s degree in geology and environmental science from Michigan State University.
The Water Resources Department is responsible for water supply planning and long-term facilities planning. The department also administers the water Shortage and Drought Response Program; provides member agency assistance in local supply development; engages in regulatory advocacy and regulation development; manages Water Authority involvement in the San Diego Integrated Regional Water Management Plan and grants administration; and ensures environmental regulatory compliance of Water Authority programs and projects.