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delta_aerial.JPGJerry Meral, the chief steward of Gov. Jerry Brown's $25 billion water project while deputy secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, is going to work for an environmental group supporting the controversial plan.

The San Francisco-based Natural Heritage Institute said Meral, who retired from the state at the end of December, will direct its California water program, including work on Brown's plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

Meral said Thursday he will volunteer his time for work specifically on the project, but it is possible the institute will pay him for work in other areas.

"That's developing," he said.

The distinction is significant because of the state's "revolving door" rules for government officials. The institute said in a prepared statement that "in order to comply with state law regarding 'revolving door' issues, he will not be compensated for his time working on BDCP."

The nonprofit said Meral, a former NHI board member, will also represent the Natural Heritage Institute on habitat, groundwater and other water issues.

Meral said non-government entities, including NHI, are likely to have a significant role in the project as it develops and that his position at the group "seemed like a good way to stay involved."

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



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