Bruce Wales, general manager of the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, officially retired Wednesday after 24 years with the district, having started his employment April 18, 1995.

He was replaced by Kevin Walsh, who has worked for several water districts in California and most recently he served as president of the board of trustees for the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1, a position he resigned to accept the job.

During his tenure, Wales led many important efforts relating to the district’s role of safeguarding water rights and conserving water supplies for residents and farmers of the Santa Ynez Valley and the Lompoc plain, a district spokesman said.

He was the mediating force for the over-arching Cachuma Project Settlement Agreement, the spokesman said.

For all that the Santa Ynez Valley provides, an expansive bucolic lifestyle, prolific vineyards and plenty of room for livestock and horses to roam, it is also home to a less-talked about population of horses that can no longer be ridden for play or sport. Since 2007, Happy Endings Animal Sanctuary in Solvang has become a beacon for animals -- mostly horses -- in need of a place to call home and happily live out the rest of their days.

The agreement resolved a 50-year-old controversy between water users on the Santa Barbara County South Coast who divert water from the Santa Ynez River watershed and the riparian and uplands groundwater interests of the cities, landowners and residents of the watershed.

The issues involved the quantity and quality of water to be released from Cachuma Reservoir for downstream users, peak flow management and flood prevention and preservation of the endangered steelhead trout.

After the state Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in late 2014, Wales prepared and executed plans for the district to manage groundwater locally without outside interference, the spokesman said.

Wales had a lead role in establishing groundwater sustainability agencies that have launched comprehensive hydrologic studies of the watershed’s groundwater basins.

He also was instrumental in enhancing the district’s financial stability while maintaining low groundwater charges for many years, the spokesman said.

One of his last assignments was to coordinate a comprehensive search for his replacement, resulting in the board of directors selecting Walsh.

This report was compiled by Mike Hodgson, associate editor for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. He can be reached at mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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