Kris Balaji is an expert at moving things.
After a 17- year career at Caltrans where he rose to the third highest non-political office in the state transportation department as well as an 8-year stint in the private sector, Balaji now oversees the small army of 350 engineers, planners, and other workers that keep the San Joaquin County economy moving whether it involves roads, water, sewage, or storm run-off as the public works director.
And part of his job is to help elected county leaders in the fight to stop the Twin Tunnels that would divert freshwater that is the lifeblood the Delta ecological system and western San Joaquin County farming and allow salinity levels to increase threatening fish and agriculture alike.
The largest chunk of the Delta and its 1,000 miles of waterways lay within San Joaquin County. That means the county would take the brunt of anticipated environmental and economic damage if Gov. Brown succeeds with his bid to build an underground version of the Peripheral Canal voters overwhelmingly killed in 1982 during Brown’s first go around as governor. The tunnels would take water from the Sacramento River as it enters the Delta and divert it into tunnels that would run under the Delta and then dump it into the California Aqueduct south of the Tracy pumps.
Much of what the public works department does in the county centers around water.
uThe agency is taking the lead in coming up with a groundwater management program for the county and associated agencies that needs to be in place by 2025 as mandated by the state.
Coordinates 100 special districts such as Raymus Village immediately northeast of Manteca that provides water, sanitary sewer, storm drainage and street lighting services for small pockets or semi-urbanized neighborhoods within the county that are outside of incorporated cities.
Maintains 107 miles of water channels that incudes dredging.
Provides countywide flood protection.
Public works is responsible for 216 miles of project levees that involves mowing vegetation, plugging rodent holes, and erosion control.
Balaji noted department staff is always looking for “out of the box” solutions for ongoing maintenance. The concrete from demolition work connected with the Interstate 5 widening project through Stockton was snagged and stockpiled for use in future flood emergencies to shore up levees.
The list of public works oversight also includes:
maintaining 1,650 miles of roadway.
keeping 265 bridges in good repair.
maintaining 364 minor structures
three ferries in the Delta.
five solid waste factories.
upkeep of a 20-inetwork of underground facilities.
Balaji praised the public works staff for getting the cost of county resources to keep roads as maintained as best as possible. He also noted the county faces a $200 million backlog of pressing road maintenance
Balaji spoke before Manteca Rotarians gathered Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room. He encouraged listeners to download the Go Request app from the public works main page on the county website at www.sjgov.org. It has GPS capability that allows you to report a pothole that needs filling or other public road concern such as a street light that is out or a sign knocked down even if you don’t know the exact location where you are reporting it from. There is also online venison of the government outreach program.
After years of working as the point man for statewide traffic flow at Caltrans where his day-to-day contacts were predominately elected leaders and top and middle management at Caltrans, Balaji said it is rewarding to serve as the county’s public works director.
“I can actually meet people and see the result of my efforts and how it helps them,” he said.
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