Jerry Meral, Gov. Jerry Brown's top water official and a major figure in the controversial, $25 billion water project proposed by the governor, will retire at the end of the month, the Brown administration confirmed Saturday.
Meral, deputy secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, told Brown of his retirement in a letter Monday - the same day the Brown administration released its latest environmental analysis of a plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.
"While additional permits will be required," Meral said in the letter, "it is virtually certain that the plan will be implemented."
Meral, who is widely regarded as one of California's most accomplished preservationists, worked for Brown as a water adviser when Brown was governor before, from 1975 to 1983. He was one of several high-profile advisers brought back by the Democratic governor when Brown took office in 2011.
Meral became a source of controversy when, earlier this year, five members of Congress called for his resignation after Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst with the California Water Impact Network and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, said Meral told Stokely the Bay Delta Conservation Plan "is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved."
The Brown administration defended Meral at the time and said his remarks were taken out of context.
Meral did not give a reason for his retirement in his letter.
Richard Stapler, a Natural Resources Agency spokesman, said in an email Saturday that "while we've reluctantly accepted Dr. Meral's decision to retire for a second time, his contribution to achieving the state's dual goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration is incalculable."
PHOTO: Aerial view of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on April 10, 2013. Highway 160 and Randall Island Road are seen near the top of the frame. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton