Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

How SePRO Helps Districts Develop Algae and Water Quality Strategies

SePRO is a research-based life sciences company that is a leader in aquatic vegetation and algae management for irrigation canals. It produces a number of well-known aquatic herbicides and algaecides, like Sonar, Clearcast, Nautique, and Captain XTR. Beyond its products, SePRO prizes its ability to establish close relationships with irrigation districts, understand their problems, and provide successful recommendations that cover not just product choice, but application methods as well.

In this interview, Mike Pearce, SePRO’s portfolio leader for algae and water quality solutions, tells Irrigation Leader about the company’s canal and irrigation portfolio and services.

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

Mike Pearce: My background is in canals and irrigation. I like to say that I grew up at an irrigation district. I went to work for the Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) in Washington State as a temporary laborer in 1999, when I was 19 years old. I started working for KID full time in 2000 and worked there for 11 years. During my time at KID, I took advantage of its education reimbursement program to complete a degree at Washington State University. I was involved with KID’s vegetation-management program from the beginning, doing both aquatic and terrestrial applications. Due to changes with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting, I began using SePRO technologies for aquatic weed and algae control and built a solid relationship with the company over the years. In 2011, I had the opportunity to join SePRO as a technical specialist for its Pacific Northwest territory, which exposed me to irrigation districts throughout Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. This is where I learned that all systems are different and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all program. In 2017, I took over as a portfolio leader and moved to SePRO’s headquarters in Carmel, Indiana.

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about SePRO as a company.

Chemicals are applied to a canal.

Mike Pearce: SePRO is a privately held, research-based life sciences company that was founded in 1994 by Bill Culpepper. Bill grew up on a farm in North Carolina, graduated from North Carolina State, and built a successful career for himself with Eli Lilly and DowElanco prior to starting SePRO. We take great pride in being a U.S.-based company, which is not common in our industry. SePRO is headquartered in Indiana, and our manufacturing and distribution facilities are in North Carolina along with a 410-acre research and technology campus. We have a great team of technical specialists who are located throughout the country and assist our aquatic resource managers.

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about SePRO’s algae and water quality portfolio.

Mike Pearce: For the canal and irrigation market, we have proprietary formulations, programs, and services for both algae and aquatic weed control. SePRO has a long history with canal and irrigation districts. When the company began working with canal managers in the late 1990s, our focus was to learn about how they were managing for aquatic weeds and algae. At that time, SePRO started working closely with canal and irrigation districts to create optimal timing, rates, and durations for our chelated copper products Captain and Nautique. This allowed the company to build strong relationships with districts and develop new and innovative aquatic weed and algae management technologies and techniques over the years. SePRO now offers multiple chelated copper products, noncopper algaecides, aquatic herbicides, pre-emergence programs, phosphorus mitigation technologies, and lab services to assist with program design. 

Irrigation Leader: Who are your main customers?

Mike Pearce: Our customers include anybody looking to protect, preserve, and restore water. SePRO works with state, local, and federal agencies as well as private customers on surface water issues in reservoirs, lakes, rivers, ponds, and canals throughout the United States. 

Irrigation Leader: One of your roles is market development. What does that entail? 

Mike Pearce: Market development involves partnering with clients to develop an understanding of the problems they have and then—this is what SePRO really takes pride in—helping to innovate and provide efficiencies and optimal control. We find different ways to do things and then bring those to the market so that our customers can do their jobs more efficiently, more effectively, and more economically.

Irrigation Leader: What kind of results do your clients see from SePRO’s solutions?

Mike Pearce: Everyone agrees that there is no silver bullet in aquatics, but we work closely with our customers to provide a recommendation or prescription that we believe will provide them control and keep their systems running efficiently. A lot of factors come into play, including the species that we’re trying to control and the product or application method being used. In a canal system, we’re treating flowing water, so we must apply the product for a certain duration at a concentration we expect to provide control. SePRO does a really good job of working with our customers, and we stand by our recommendations and products. If something doesn’t meet a customer’s expectations, we’ll do our best to make it right and find a resolution that everybody walks away happy with. We even offer guaranteed programs for those who are interested in a fixed budget. 

Irrigation Leader: What kind of technical support do you provide to your clients and customers?

Mike Pearce: We base our technical support on an assessment-prescription-implementation process. One of our technical specialists will visit a district and look at its canals to get a good understanding of what its problems are, then provide a prescription based on that assessment, and finally help with the implementation of the program or application. That way, everybody’s confident in the recommendation and executes it correctly, which gives it the best shot for success. We want to have a good understanding of a client’s system and problem before we give them a recommendation so that we’re not just shooting from the hip. That provides comfort for the customer—they know we have their back through the entire process.

Irrigation Leader: Would you tell us about the technical advances that have happened in your industry over the last few years?

Mike Pearce: SePRO has been fortunate enough to be involved with numerous technical advances in algae and aquatic weed control for the canal and irrigation market. When you look at the history of algae and aquatic weed management in canals, managers were operating with a limited toolbox for decades. In the mid-2000s, we started researching and developing pre-emergence use patterns in dewatered canals to change the paradigm from reactive to proactive management. Districts began using Sonar, a systemic herbicide technology, to spray their canals in the offseason and prevent aquatic weeds from emerging during the season. SePRO now has multiple technologies (Sonar Genesis, Clearcast, Galleon, and Oasis) to put in rotation for pre-emergence programs. In 2011, SePRO developed Captain XTR, a proprietary chelated copper formulation that utilizes infusion technology for better algae control. Other notable advancements from SePRO include combination treatments with Nautique and Cascade or Captain XTR and Teton for enhanced broad-spectrum control of aquatic weeds as well as use patterns with Clearcast herbicide for superior cattail management and growth regulation along ditch banks to reduce mowing. 

More recently, SePRO has looked at the application side of things. A lot of applications, whether of SePRO’s products or of others, occur over long durations. In season, when you’re applying a product to flowing water, you must inject, drip, or pour it in over a period that can last several hours. SePRO’s chelated coppers are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for pulse applications, which means they can be poured in over the course of a few minutes rather than a few hours, which saves a lot of time and labor. Beyond that, SePRO has been working on automated methods of application that will use cellular technology and autonomous units. 

All these technical advancements would not have been possible without the cooperation of so many great irrigation districts and their personnel; they are the ones who really deserve all the credit. 

Irrigation Leader: Have needs changed at all in recent years based on changing temperatures or weather patterns?

Mike Pearce: Needs are always dependent on weather patterns or seasonal temperatures. If we have warmer temperatures in the early spring, will that cause aquatic plants and algae to grow more than usual? Are the reservoirs at full capacity going into the season, or are they at lower levels, which might mean warmer water temperatures? Is fresh runoff coming into the reservoirs and cooling temperatures? All these factors can likely be associated with the growth levels of algae and aquatic vegetation, so every season provides a new challenge. It’s best for canal managers to always have a strategy in place prior to the season so that they’re prepared for whatever occurs.

Irrigation Leader: How has your irrigation district experience helped you in your role at SePRO?

Mike Pearce: I have an immense appreciation for what canal managers and irrigation districts do, because I’ve lived it. My first job when I was 19 years old was pitching moss from weed screens on the graveyard shift. I’ve seen what happens when a canal breaches and the amount of damage and risk that that can cause to a district or community. I know the importance of delivering water efficiently to water users and why it’s so critical to keep the canals clean and the water moving. My experience at KID is why I appreciate what our canal customers deal with every day and why I know that every drop of water counts. 

Mike Pearce is the portfolio leader for algae and water quality solutions at SePRO. For more information about SePRO’s algae and water quality solutions, visit www.sepro.com/canals.