A good dam for a good man


"Water Buffalo" Carl Boronkay supported restoration of Hetch Hetchy


Carl Boronkay was no typical tree-hugger.

Carl was a "water buffalo" - a term (sometimes endearing, sometimes not) given to the most powerful water industry people in California and the semi-arid west. From 1984 to 1993, Boronkay served as General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the nation’s largest water wholesaler serving 19 million people.

Yet Carl Boronkay supported restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.


Speakers at the dedication included current General Manager Jeff Kightlinger, Board Chair Gloria Gray, and Carl's son Drew - also a manager at Metropolitan.

Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Water District

In 1987, while serving as General Manager, Carl wrote an editorial opinion for the Los Angeles Times, advocating a study of restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley. Titled, “LIKE MONO LAKE, LIKE HETCH HETCHY”, Boronkay explained that Hetch Hetchy is a “world treasure” and that “we, as a society, have the right and the duty to review decisions allocating the use of water held by the state in trust for the public.” He joined Restore Hetch Hetchy’s Advisory Committee in 2005, then helped with our ballot measure in San Francisco in 2012 and potential legislative solutions after the ballot measure failed.

Carl passed away in 2017, but he left an incomparable legacy at Metropolitan. When he took over, the agency’s sole role was managing imports from the Colorado River and Bay-Delta for cities in California's southland. The six-year drought from 1987-92, however, was a wake-up call for Metropolitan, as it was for other water agencies. In addition, public support for providing water to waterfowl at Mono lake and to fisheries in the Bay-Delta was growing, threatening the reliability of water supplies.

Carl led Metropolitan’s efforts to diversify its system. Metropolitan changed. It negotiated with farmers, encouraging them to improve irrigation efficiency so a portion of their supply could be sold to cities. MWD also invested in groundwater recharge, locally, in the Mojave Desert and in Kern County. And, under Carl’s leadership, Metropolitan built Diamond Valley Reservoir in Riverside County. The reservoir holds 800,000 acre-feet, more than twice the volume of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

In a ceremony at Diamond Valley on October 16, Metropolitan honored Carl by naming the dam at its east end in his honor. The honor is well-deserved as Carl creatively and aggressively made changes to Metropolitan’s water system so it could better withstand droughts and meet environmental commitments.

The water industry needs more leaders like Carl Boronkay. Is anyone prepared to step forward? Anyone in San Francisco?