William Gianelli was born in Stockton, California on February 19, 1919. He was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving a B.S. in 1941. He then served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers from 1941 to 1945, in the midst of World War II. In this capacity, he was involved in building airfields, water supply facilities, and other construction projects at installations in Hawaii, Saipan, Okinawa, and Korea. By the end of the war, he had attained the rank of Major.
After the war, in January 1946, Gianelli took a job in the office of the State Engineer of California. After ten years in that job, he left for the California Department of Water Resources, becoming staff engineer and special assistant to the director. In 1959, he became district engineer for the CDWR's southern district.
In 1960, Gianelli left government service and formed a consulting engineering firm, Gianelli & Murray.
In January 1967, Governor of California Ronald Reagan appointed Gianelli as head of the California Department of Water Resources. In that capacity, he oversaw the development of the California State Water Project.
Gianelli again left government service in 1973, becoming a consulting engineer. From 1973 to 1976, he served on the National Commission on Water Quality appointed by President of the United States Richard Nixon and chaired by Nelson Rockefeller.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Gianelli as Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), and, after Senate Confirmation, he held this office from April 1981 until May 1984. He was chairman of the Panama Canal Commission, the last four years under special Congressional Authorization.
Gianelli continued to work as a consultant after leaving government service in 1984.
- President Reagan's Nomination of Gianelli as Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
- Water Resources - An Interview with William R. Gianelli
- Profile from the Department of the Army
- William R. Gianelli : The California State Department of Water Resources, 1967-1973 / an interview conducted by Malca Chall in 1985. Berkeley, Calif. : Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, University of California, 1986
|Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
April 1981 – May 1984
Robert K. Dawson