William R. “Bill” Gianelli
William R. “Bill” Gianelli (1919-2020) was a civil engineer who served not only as director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) from 1967-1973 during Gov. Ronald Reagan’s administration, but worked as a civil servant under Govs. Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight and Edmund G. “Pat” Brown during all phases of the California State Water Project (SWP): its design, planning and construction.
He was president of the Water Education Foundation from 1985-1989, and made a major financial donation that helped the Foundation create an educational program for young professionals, which was named the William R. “Bill” Gianelli Water Leaders Class.
From the get-go, Gianelli was a strong proponent of completing the SWP and its promised water deliveries. From 1981-1984, he served under Reagan’s presidential administration as assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works overseeing water resource development activities. A longtime consulting civil engineer, he served on the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Board of Directors, including as its chair.
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Born in Stockton, he shared some of his early experiences of the Delta during an interview with the Water Education Foundation for the 1992 publication, “Memories of the Early Days of California Water Development.” “I spent a good part of my teenage years as a Sea Scout sailing around the Delta channels,” he said. “I had a lot of friends whose parents farmed in the Delta, and one of the big concerns that they had during those years — during the period of the 1930s — was whether the farmers would be able to get a crop out of their land because of sea water intrusion. … Since their [SWP and federal Central Valley Project] construction you’ve had enough water released from all these reservoirs to repulse the sea water so that the Delta has always had an ample supply of freshwater for agriculture even though we’ve had some very dry years.”
He also discussed the deadly pre-project flooding that often occurred throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. In his honor, the pumping generating plant at the San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos was renamed the William R. Gianelli Powerplant.