@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

State environmental agency taps new water quality chief

Posted January 15, 2015

Jordan Lake aerial

— A veteran geologist will take over the division of state regulators responsible for ensuring safe drinking water and issuing pollution permits, following a leadership shuffle at the North Carolina's environmental agency this week.

Jay Zimmerman assumes the role of acting director at the Division of Water Resources, one of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' largest regulatory groups. Zimmerman has worked with the agency in various roles since 1987, most recently managing the section overseeing groundwater protection and animal operations programs.

It's unclear when DENR will name a permanent director.

For weeks, the agency has shuffled leadership after former Secretary John Skvarla left to lead the state Commerce Department. Skvarla's former energy policy adviser, Don var der Vaart, took the top job at DENR at the beginning of the month.

A shakeup in DENR's top leadership earlier in the week ousted two assistant secretaries and elevated the water resources division's former director, Tom Reeder, to one of the No. 2 posts. That left his position at the Division of Water Resources vacant.

Zimmerman, a certified public manager with a bachelor's degree in geology from Kent State University, will at least temporarily lead a division that has seen significant reorganization in the last few years under the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. In August 2013, DENR leadership merged the Division of Water Quality with the much smaller Water Resources, a group that dealt primarily with the management and sustainability of the state's water supply.

Reeder, then the director of Water Resources, took the helm of the reorganized division as it shed about 70 full-time positions.

About half those positions were vacant, DENR officials said, and they pointed out the move would save millions and increase efficiency.

But environmental advocates expressed concern at the move, worrying the reductions would make the division less equipped to handle its regulatory responsibilities.

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  • Jeff Herring Jan 16, 2015
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    they cut the staff of the agency that's going to protect you from fracking, let's just call it the division of letting companies defecate in the water.

  • ncsense Jan 16, 2015

    The cuts in water quality staff were clearly poorly thought through. The fact that most of the positions were vacant doesn't mean the positions were unneeded; the positions were being held vacant because of state budget cuts. DENR cut nearly 20 positions in the water quality/water resource programs in February 2014 -- just before the Dan River coal ash spill. Now, DENR is scrambling to add new water quality positions to deal with the coal ash issue.