In Memory of Don Kienlen (the “K” in MBK Engineers)

Friday, Mar 31st, 2023

By Gary Kienlen

My father Donald E. Kienlen (“Don”) passed away on January 24, 2023, at the age of 92.

Don was born in Elgin, Illinois and raised in Moline, Illinois. He had asthma as a boy, and as a result the family moved to New Mexico when he was a senior in high school. After graduating from Albuquerque High School, Don attended the University of New Mexico where he earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering in 1952. Following graduation, he worked for the New Mexico State Engineers office conducting hydrologic surveys and studies required for the administration of groundwater basins throughout the State. He was rapidly promoted to Assistant Chief of Water Rights Division, where he acted on applications to appropriate ground water and supervised watermaster services.

While working for the New Mexico State Engineers office, Don met his future wife and my mother Shirley Friends. The family questioned whether it would last, as she was a Southern Baptist, and he was Catholic. Love prevailed and they proved the doubters wrong being married for 61 years. After some consideration they decided to move to Sacramento in March of 1957 where Don went to work for the California Department of Water Resources as an Assistant Hydraulic Engineer. He assisted in establishing a groundwater monitoring system for collecting basic data to be published by the Department and was responsible for interpreting data for the preparation of groundwater contour maps. In November 1957 Don went to work for the State Water Rights Board. He was assigned to assist the Board as staff engineer during public hearings on applications by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to store and divert water as part of the Central Valley Project (CVP). During those hearings he examined expert engineering witnesses for the purpose of obtaining facts pertinent to a solution of the effects of the proposed CVP appropriations on the California Water Plan, the Sacramento‐San Joaquin Delta salinity problem, and other matters of statewide importance. Don prepared the first draft of the Board’s decisions regarding all the applications except those for storage at Friant Dam. He was one of the key authors of D-990 that led to the Sacramento River Settlement Contracts.

In May of 1965 Don went to work as a Consulting Civil Engineer for the firm of Gianelli and Murray. After Ronald Reagan appointed Bill Gianelli to be Director of the State Department of Water Resources in 1967, together with Agnus Norman Murray (Norm) and Joseph Isadore Burns (Joe), Don became a founding partner of Murray Burns and Kienlen, now MBK Engineers.

Don was an expert in water rights. He was known and respected throughout the State by those he worked with whether they were on the same side of a particular issue or not. Don’s work ethic, honesty, and mentorship has helped make MBK Engineers the respected engineering firm it is today. Don loved backpacking, camping, and fishing. He was very involved in the Boy Scouts in the 1960s and early 70s. Don and Shirley built a home in Graeagle California in 1988 and they moved to the Sierra Nevada in 1991 after he retired. Don and Shirley loved to travel, taking trips to Alaska and New Zealand and various river cruises in Europe and Scandinavia. Don lost his life-partner Shirley in 2016. He is survived by me and my sister Nanette, 5 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren, with one more on the way. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Don was a devoted family man and brought those values with him wherever he went.

On behalf of our family and the team at MBK Engineers, we appreciate all your support and we cherish his memory.

Note: There will be a mass held at Holy Family Church in Portola on Friday April 14, 2023 at 11:00am.  A reception will follow in the church hall. In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or Macular Degeneration Foundation.

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