Herb Guenther is stepping aside as head of the Department of Water Resources, but the longtime director will stay on board as adviser.
Gov. Jan Brewer on Jan. 7 named Sandra Fabritz-Whitney as the agency’s acting director. Fabritz-Whitney has served as assistant director of the agency since 2005.
In October, Guenther refuted rumors that he was leaving the agency. He said the governor’s decision was unexpected.
“I did not anticipate this move. But … I serve at the pleasure of the governor,” he said. “They indicated that they would like to make a change.”
Guenther, who was appointed director in 2003 after leaving the Senate, will serve as a “special advisor” to Fabritz-Whitney. He said he will stay in that position “as long as I can be beneficial.”
“I’ve offered to stay on as an advisor to assist the new acting director … to get more familiar with the many important issues still on the table,” he said. “We’ve got some very critical issues on the table.”
Among those critical issues, he said, are negotiations with the U.S. Department of the Interior on the management of water from the Colorado River, efforts to bolster Arizona’s other water supplies through desalination and other methods, and ongoing work on a settlement between the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.
The Department of Water Resources lost about 70 percent of its budget in the past two years. The Legislature in 2010 gave it authority last year to raise permit fees to cover some of its operating costs.
The agency’s budget went from about $21 million in 2009 to about $7 million for the current fiscal year. The department has 94 employees, down from 236 in 2009, Guenther said. In February 2010, the department closed offices in Casa Grande, Nogales, Prescott and Tucson.