Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Mike Miller: Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District East Wenatchee, Washington

Years working in irrigation: 30

Years as manager: 11

Number of employees: 6

Size of service area in acres: 10,000

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 30,000

Main crops irrigated: Apples, cherries, pears 

Predominant irrigation methods: Drip, microsprinkler 

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

Mike Miller: Title transfer is the biggest thing we have going. Urbanization is also important.

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for? 

Mike Miller: Major changes in use and possible expansion into traditional dry lands. Urbanization makes it challenging to drain our system. Our east unit is split about 60/40 between urbanized and agricultural land. Eight years ago, it was split 60/40 the other way. In the past, it was no problem to open drains; now we have houses and yards with landscaping that get flooded. I have been trying to get permission to connect our drains to the storm water system, but so far, we haven’t been able to accomplish that. We will be requiring new subdivisions to plumb our drains to a storm water retention pond.

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel? 

Mike Miller: Finding young folks with good skills is a challenge. Hiring people with military experience seems to work well, as they understand the need to be available at all hours. They also seem to have some of the skills needed to work with our equipment. At our district, you have to be good at many jobs, from digging a hole with a shovel to operating a backhoe, troubleshooting an electric motor, or repairing a pump.

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

Mike Miller: Because our system is pumped and pressurized and all the water is lifted, we have a lot of pumps and motors. We focus a lot on electrical safety, electrical troubleshooting, and pump maintenance. We are currently doing confined spaces, arc flash protection, first aid, and CPR training, just to list a few. We’ve got to meet the standards set by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, and we hope to keep our employees safe, healthy, and on the job.

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

Mike Miller: About $35,000. 

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

Mike Miller: That your employees are your biggest asset. Also, that I enjoy what I do for a living.

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

Mike Miller: I’d have to say leadership, growing employees, and keeping people safe and on the job. Being able to navigate politics—local, state, and national—is also important. You need to be able to work with other government agencies and still manage the district to maintain easements and rights of way. Customer service is job number 1. We work for the public. That is one of the easiest things to do, but for some it is the easiest to forget. 

Being a district manager has been a great and rewarding job. I work alongside some of the most dedicated and professional people "I have ever met. I am privileged to interact with great leaders and great individuals with varied backgrounds. I am always humbled by the quality of the people I work with. I have been lucky to have other managers to help me along the way with the many challenges and struggles that we face while navigating the irrigation and water industry. 

Mike Miller is manager of the Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District in East Wenatchee, Washington. He can be contacted at mikem@gwid.org.