Water conservancy managers are among Utah’s highest-paid public employees

Nov 13, 2018, 3:00 PM
Several of Utah's water district CEOs and managers earn well over $200,000 each year, the KSL Inves...
Several of Utah's water district CEOs and managers earn well over $200,000 each year, the KSL Investigates team discovered. (KSL TV)

Some of the best-paid people on the public payroll aren’t elected. They’re the managers and CEOs of our state’s water conservancy districts, a little-known network of government agencies that receive enough taxpayer money to pay one-third of their employees $100,000 or more.

Those salaries, according to a new report by KSL Investigates, are among the highest in the state. They are on par with district judges, and, in some cases, even higher than the governor himself.

The incredible wages of water conservancy district managers

Water conservancy district pipes

One-third of the water conservancy department’s employees earn $100,000 or more, according to a KSL Investigates report. (KSL TV)

Water conservancy districts have an important job. They are the people in charge of the water resources across our state; the ones who make sure that clean and fresh water comes out of our taps whenever we pull the handle.

But even though those positions are on the public payroll, their leaders, for the most part, are not elected. Those leaders are among the best-paid public employees in the state, with the top-paid managers and CEOs bringing in more than $200,000 a year.

Utah Taxpayers Association Vice President Billy Hesterman thinks that their salaries have run amock.

“It’s obscene,” he told KSL TV. “We don’t understand why someone at this level needs to earn that kind of money.”

KSL Investigates spoke to Richard Bay, CEO of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and the top-earner on the list. Bay, however, doesn’t accept Hesterman’s criticism. Instead, he insists that his work more than makes up for his salary.

“I think the public is getting a great bargain for my services,” Bay told KSL’s Debbie Dujanovic. “My years of experience, my abilities to develop and negotiate for new water sources, my ability to oversee the operation and maintenance of hundreds of miles of pipeline serving over a million people in Salt Lake Valley.”

Bay’s district, he says, is responsible for the water supply for one-third of the state’s residents.

His unique talents, he argues, make his salary worth it. Recently, he helped negotiate a deal that got Kennecott Copper to invest millions of dollars into cleaning up polluted groundwater, saving the district far more than the cost of Bay’s salary.

Still, that salary has significantly increased over the past few years. When he started in 2007, Bay brought in an annual salary $176,562. Today, however, he earns $273,406 per year, an increase of almost $100,000 in just eleven years.

One of the best-paid public employees in Utah

Richard Bay, the best-paid water conservancy district CEO on the payroll, speaks to KSL’s Debbie Dujanovic. (KSL TV)

Bay isn’t the only water conversancy expert earning six figures. Several of the top-paid water conversancy managers earn well over $200,000 each year, with many more than doubling Gov. Gary Herbert’s $109,900.

Those water conservancy managers rank among the top-paid public employees in our state.

Technically, the number one spot for the highest-paid public employee in Utah goes to Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, who makes $3.3 million per year. Most of his salary, however, comes from private sources and not from the taxpayers.

But when it comes to salaries paid with taxpayer dollars, Richard Bay isn’t far behind Utah’s best-paid city employee: Provo City Public Works Division Director David Decker, who earns $318,530.98 per year. And he’s actually slightly above the second-highest paid city employee, Salt Lake City Chief of Police Mike Brown.

“This is reaching a level that’s far too high for us,” Hesterman says.

He believes that those salaries wouldn’t have gotten so high if the public wasn’t paying attention. “We often think of school districts, cities, counties, the state, but we forget about this level of government.”

More to the story

Not everyone agrees, though, that those salaries are too high. When Debbie Dujanovic, a member of the investigative team behind the report, talked about this on her KSL Newsradio show Dave & Dujanovic, her co-host Dave Noriega said that it’s unfair for the public to criticize the pay for a job they don’t understand.

If you missed their discussion live on the air, you can still hear what they both had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Water conservancy managers are among Utah’s highest-paid public employees