Who is Norris Brandt?

When hiring someone to help solve problems, you want to know who that person is, not just what experience or credentials they have.  One of the best ways to understand a person is by knowing a bit of his/her personal history.  Each of us has a story to tell and this is mine.

I was born in Glendale, California, a third-generation Californian.  I am the third child and first son of my father Alfred William Brandt Jr and my mother Norrisa Poulson Brandt.  I got my unusual name, Norris Poulson Brandt, primarily from my maternal grandfather Norris Poulson, who was the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles when I was born.  I suppose I also got my interest in water from my grandfather.  As an Assemblymember and then Congressman, he fought the interstate battle for California’s Colorado River water rights.  As Mayor, he played a critical role in getting the Legislature to pass the Burns-Porter Act in 1959, funding the State Water Project.

Norris Poulson moved his wife and three daughters to Los Angeles from his family’s farm in the tiny Eastern Oregon town of Haines.  His father had settled there after traversing the country along the Oregon Trail in the late 1800’s.  It is probably safe to say Norris Poulson will be the last farmer to be Mayor of Los Angeles.

During the first 12 years of my life, my family lived in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, where I chased urban streams through private estates and public parks and spent a lot of time swimming at the city pool on Gardner Street.  Growing up in LA was fun, with Hollywood at our backdoor and all the sites of a vibrant world city just a bike or bus ride away.  I went through Cub Scouts with friends from school and earned my First Class rank in Boy Scouts.  My summers were spent with cousins chasing cattle and fishing the streams of Eastern Oregon.

When my father got laid off his real estate job in 1967, we moved to the then remote and fledgling suburb of Irvine, in central Orange County.  Today, Irvine has over 230,000 residents and swells to a workday population over 500,000.  My mother went back to work teaching.  Our house was in the first residential tract built in Irvine.  That first summer, I finished up my second and final year in my LA Boy Scout troop by backpacking the northern half of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras.  While times were tough economically for my parents, we kids thought we were in paradise.  We were surrounded by open space and citrus groves.  We swam three times a day in the homeowners association pools and rode our bikes to the beach frequently in the summer.  That is when I picked up my love for surfing.

During high school, when I was 14, my 15-year-old sister Ramona (named after the Southern California Scottish-Native American orphan girl in Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel), passed away from Leukemia.  To deal with the emotional loss, I spent a lot of time surfing.  There is something therapeutic about the rhythm of the ocean and the physical exertion associated with surfing.  I also developed a passion for protecting the ocean and the vital watersheds upstream.

While working at the local grocery store to earn my way through college at Cal Poly Pomona (with the motto Instrumentum Disciplinae, or “Application of Knowledge,” commonly “learn by doing”), I began my studies in architecture, but ended up with a degree in Agricultural Engineering (irrigation and water resources) instead.  With my growing interest in water, I moved on to Utah State University for a Master’s degree in Engineering, specializing in advanced irrigation, groundwater hydrology, hydraulics, and water resources.  The dye was cast—water flows through my veins.

Completing school in 1982, my land planner wife Kimberly and I got married.  With the recession of 1982, and with the national defense budget burgeoning, I ended up building high tech satellites for two years until a water job opened up.  With a top secret clearance, I even worked on the Space Shuttle Discovery.

In 1984, Kim and I had our first child, bought a new car, bought a new house, and moved to the California desert so I could work for the 1000-square-mile Coachella Valley Water District.  The CVWD folks were like family and graciously gave me a chance to grow exponentially as I applied all that schooling to real life water issues.  I was like a kid in a candy shop.  There was so much to learn and I was given extraordinary opportunity by management as I learned by trial and error at times.

After four years in the desert, we returned to the cool coastal breezes of Orange County.  I spent the next 20 years in various positions at Irvine Ranch Water District while Kim and I raised our two sons, staying busy in the usual activities; school, sports, Boy Scouts, and church.  It was a heady time of growth for central Orange County, IRWD, and our entire staff team.  With the leadership and vision of the IRWD Board of Directors, we plowed new ground in all sorts of areas of innovation including expansion of recycled water service, development of a natural treatment system for urban runoff, water conservation, the state’s first ascending block rate structure, advanced emergency preparedness, and infrastructure replacement funding and planning, to name a few.

In the latter part of 2007, I moved on to Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District in southwestern Riverside County, where I spent the next six years applying my 24 years of experience to the professional development of a medium sized water agency that is at ground zero for population growth in Southern California.  For its size, EVMWD seems to deal with just about every water and wastewater issue confronting California, including local water resource development, groundwater management, salt and nutrient management, TMDL implementation, interagency collaborations, surface water rights, surface storage, again to name just a few.  As Assistant General Manager, I was involved in all of them and had the chance to work with an insightful Board of Directors.

In 2011, after returning to school at Cal State Fullerton, I finished at the top of my class in earning a Master of Arts in Communications, with an emphasis in Public Relations.  To keep my pride in check,  Kim reminds me it’s easier to do well in school when you have decades of work experience under your belt.  I went back to school to pick up some new tools to enhance my natural abilities to translate technical issues into collaboration and action.

In 2014, I embarked on a new initiative to use my 30 years of professional experience at public agencies to help others, both private and public, solve problems related to water resources.  I have moved on from public service and am available to assist you in moving the ball forward toward the goal line.  I am solutions-oriented and I understand how to break through the log jams that just seem to bog down projects.  Sincere communication and outreach are critical to success.  I apply my alma mater’s theme of practical application of knowledge to get things done.  I am a practitioner, not just an engineer/scientist.

I hope this brief summary of my personal history helps you understand just who Norris Brandt is and how I can help you.

Surf’s up!  Let’s paddle out and get down to business.