Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Brian Betcher: Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation & Drainage District

Years working in irrigation: 31

Years as manager: 11

Number of employees: 42

Size of service area in acres: 70,000

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 260,000–270,000

Main crops irrigated: Alfalfa, cotton, corn silage, feed grains, melons 

Predominant irrigation methods: Level basin with ports, subsurface drip, center-pivot sprinkler

Irrigation Leader: What is the top issue facing your irrigation district today?

Brian Betcher: The district delivers a combination of groundwater and surface water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River system in Arizona has been going through a 25-year drought, which has put pressure on our surface water supplies. We are headed toward using a higher percentage of groundwater than in the past. 

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?

Brian Betcher: Back in 1989, when our canal system was completed, we acquired operational control of all the ag wells in the district, which were just delivering to individual farms. Over the years, we have connected those wells into the canal system. We’ve also done a lot of rehab work on district wells and currently have some funding to build new well infrastructure. Expanding that groundwater system is going to be our focus over the next 5 years. 

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel?

Brian Betcher: We have equipment for installing and removing equipment from our wells, and we do a lot of well repair in house. One of the challenges has been finding employees with the right experience to operate that equipment. We’ve also had some challenges retaining the water operators (zanjeros) who deliver water through the canal system. The overall economy has been good in Arizona, so there is more competition for those employees.

Irrigation Leader: What training do you currently provide your employees?

Brian Betcher: When it comes to water operators, field training is most important. When we bring new hires on, we have them spend a portion of the day with every one of our departments, even departments that they’re not going to be working for, so that they get a better understanding of how they interface. We also provide safety training. We have a safety committee that meets on a regular basis, and periodically, we hold safety seminars. We have an active certification program for employees who operate heavy equipment, and we support those seeking to get their commercial driver’s licenses.

Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training for your employees each year?

Brian Betcher: $10,000–$15,000.

Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as manager?

Brian Betcher: How to work and communicate effectively with a board of directors. I’ve had the benefit of a fairly steady board for a number of years. Most of its members are active in production agriculture, so they are affected by the policies they develop. Another area is working with employees in order to cultivate a desire to work hard and to stay at a district for the long term. You need to treat them with respect, listen to them, and compensate them well so that they are invested in what the district does.

Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager?

Brian Betcher: You have to be able to listen well, communicate well, and work hard to understand the messages that are being delivered to you. Make sure that when you’re trying to communicate with an employee or a board member, the message being received is the real message being sent. Listen and communicate while being respectful of what your employees contribute. Try not to be the guy that knows everything. 

Brian Betcher is general manager of Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District in Maricopa, Arizona. He can be contacted at brian@msidd.com.