Dan Davidson is an Idaho native who has served as the manager of southern Idaho’s Minidoka Irrigation District (MID) for the past 8 years. The MID’s system dates back to the first decade of the 20th century, and as with many irrigation districts, repairing and replacing aging infrastructure is a priority. The MID is currently pursuing a transfer of the title for its system from the Bureau of Reclamation, which would allow it to provide additional services and thus raise money for infrastructure. In this interview, Mr. Davidson tells Irrigation Leader about the current status of the MID’s title transfer efforts and its plans for the future.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Dan Davidson: I guess you can say that the water industry is a family business. I grew up along the Snake River in eastern Idaho. My grandfather spent his life working at dams on the Snake and Bear Rivers. My father was a dam operator on the Snake River for Utah Power. After he retired, he worked as a watermaster on the Blackfoot River. After graduating from high school, I spent 8 years in the military as a combat engineer, working with floating bridges and boats. Afterward, I worked with my father-in-law on a cattle ranch. My primary job was flood irrigation. Because I spent a lot of time around water growing up, when an opportunity to work at an irrigation district opened up, I took it. Five years later, the opportunity to manage a larger system opened up. I managed Bear River Canal Company, the largest canal company in the state of Utah, for 9 years. The water I used flowed through many of the dams where my grandfather worked. However, my family and I missed Idaho, so in 2012, I took the job of manager of the MID. I have been here for more than 8 years.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about the MID.
Dan Davidson: The MID has over 400 miles of canals, laterals, and drains and more than 77,000 irrigated acres within a 100,000‑acre service area. The project was built in the early 1900s. The primary crops are alfalfa, potatoes, small grains, and sugar beets. We have 26 full-time employees.
Irrigation Leader: How did the MID decide to pursue title transfer?
Dan Davidson: I began discussing title transfer with the board in 2013. In 2016, we formally requested title transfer. When the John D. Dingell, Jr., Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act began to gain momentum, we decided to put everything on hold. After the Dingell Act passed in 2019, we dove in to get it finished.
The main reason we wanted to seek title transfer was to provide additional income opportunities for the district and to reduce regulatory issues. That extra income would make it a little easier to operate the irrigation district on a day-to-day basis without the added bureaucratic layer of dealing with Reclamation. Currently, every time we need to make a change to our system, we have to seek permission from Reclamation. That can be really time consuming.
Irrigation Leader: Does the MID have issues with aging infrastructure?
Dan Davidson: Absolutely. This spring, we replaced a structure that dated back to the original construction of the district in 1907. There are other original structures in use today.
Irrigation Leader: Will gaining ownership of the title to its system enable the MID to go to the private sector for funding?
Dan Davidson: We are already able to seek private-sector funding. Title transfer will allow us more freedom to make changes to our system and to partner with other water user groups. Currently, our main income stream comes from assessments paid directly by our water users. The other income streams that title transfer would open include using our system to convey water for other entities and using it for recharge. Right now, if we want to wheel water for someone else, we need Reclamation’s permission. We would use that extra money to make changes and improvements to the system.
Irrigation Leader: Where are you in the title transfer process?
Dan Davidson: The title transfer package was submitted to Congress on September 24. That starts a 90-day period during which Congress can veto the transfer. Idaho’s delegation supports the transfer.
Irrigation Leader: What has it been like to work with Reclamation?
Dan Davidson: I have a lot of respect for everyone on the title transfer team at Reclamation. They’ve been great to work with, and I appreciate all they have done. As with any big project, there are hiccups along the way and lessons learned. One of those was the appraisal process. It took a lot longer than expected. When we are done, other districts will have an easier time working through the process, though.
Irrigation Leader: What is your message to other irrigation districts that are considering title transfer?
Dan Davidson: Make sure you keep board members up to speed on the process. Build a good working relationship with local Reclamation staff. They can make title transfer much easier. Get the message out to everyone early. Make sure everyone is delivering the same message about the transfer.
Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a manager?
Dan Davidson: Build confidence in your staff. Get them involved in the decisionmaking process. I can’t say enough good things about everyone I work with at the MID. They’re excellent people to work with, and they’ve made the process a lot easier.