Tom Neisler celebrated his birthday in style.
He was named the new general manager of the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District the same week as his birthday.
Neisler, 56, who had been the assistant general manager of the district for about a year, will take over for current GM John Martin, who is retiring as of Nov. 22.
“I’m very excited about this,” Neisler said of the Aug. 26 announcement at a special board meeting. “I feel I understand the challenges of this position and hope to work well with the board. I have some big shoes to fill in replacing John (Martin).”
Neisler has been with the TCCWD for four years, starting as an operations manager. He was among some 30 people who applied for the general manager’s job. The final interviews came down to two candidates — Neisler and someone from outside the district.
Martin said he was happy the board picked Neisler, someone he’s know for more than 20 years. The two worked together in the Bear Valley Springs public works department before coming to the TCCWD.
“Tom has performed his job well for the district,” Martin said. “He’s informed on the issues, and is a known quantity. I’m glad the board selected someone from within.”
Neisler said the board sets the vision and it’s his job to implement it. He sees three main challenges for the district in the near future.
“The first is ensuring we have an adequate water supply in a time of a record drought,” he said. “We’re a small district so it’s a big challenge making sure the state water board knows our needs.”
Keeping the infrastructure in good shape is next on this list.
“Our system was built about 50 years ago, so everything is aging at the same time,” he said. “We’ve set aside funds to help replace that infrastructure.”
He noted the district just spent almost $7 million to replace engines and control systems to keep the water pumping over the mountain from the state pipelines.
“John (Martin) helped secure a private loan at a better rate than some of the public offerings to get that competed,” he said. “It should be fully operational in the coming year.”
The infrastructure isn’t the only aging component for the water district.
“Our third challenge is getting a younger work staff,” he said. “We have a dedicated staff here and it’s a great place to work. Some have been here more than 25 years, but most of our employees are age 45 and up.”
The district currently has 19 full-time employees and one who works part-time. He said students are now finally seeing a future in working in “blue jeans and work boots.”
“Back in the 1990s, everyone thought they were going to be tech millionaires,” Neisler said. “They all wanted white collar jobs but it’s now becoming more popular to do these kinds of blue collar jobs with water conservation and environmental issues. It’s a better social cache. Plus, this is a great place to work. I’m only the fourth general manager the district has had.”
Neisler credits those early founders for bringing extra water to Tehachapi. The district supplies water to the City of the Tehachapi, and the different community services districts.
“Tehachapi would look very different if they didn’t make a plan more than 50 years to get water over the mountain,” he said. “We have the largest vertical lift that brings water from pipelines near the Grapevine.”
He said about two-thirds of Tehachapi water is supplied by that pipeline. The rest comes from local wells.
“If they hadn’t planned that out, and that water didn’t get here, Tehachapi wouldn’t have the agriculture it has, or the parks, or the golf courses,” he said. “Brite Lake is filled with that water. Those new pumps and engines will ensure we continue to get that water.”
Neisler, who has lived in Bear Valley Springs with his wife, Carolyn, for the past 22 years, said he was glad to be selected to take over the GM job.
“I know the area and the needs,” he said. “We kept the water flowing to everyone in the district without interruptions or rate increases, despite the historic drought. It’s important that we keep a stable water supply. I look forward to meeting the coming challenges.”