One challenge that is common to irrigation districts and water users worldwide is the need to remove debris and other substances from water while also protecting fish and other wildlife. Screens that can filter out debris without harming fish are important tools for doing just that. International Water Screens (IWS) is a global leader in the design of fixed and moving screens. Its screens are custom built to customers’ needs, feature state-of-the-art features to filter out debris while preserving fish, and are designed to last. In this interview, IWS Vice President Chris Gargan and Sales Representative Joel Irving tell Irrigation Leader about IWS’s product line and how it is expanding globally to meet water challenges on nearly every continent.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to be in your current positions.
Chris Gargan: I’m the son of the owner and am now the vice president of sales. I began about 15–16 years ago and have been enjoying it ever since. I work for my dad, Rich Gargan, who worked for his dad for 18 years before starting IWS. I appreciate the opportunity to get to travel to a lot of places I might not otherwise be able to. I absolutely love working for my dad and with my brother-in-law. We’ve been fairly successful at keeping roofs over all our heads and food in our mouths.
Joel Irving: I grew up on a cattle and grain farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, and chased the professional hockey dream for about 15 years. I ended up in Bakersfield, California, where I met my wife, Monica, who is Chris’s sister and Rich Gargan’s daughter. Once the hockey career was over, I needed to transition over into another passion. Rich gave me the opportunity to learn about his company and where he wanted to go with it, which involved being more aggressive in Canada and the northern United States. I took on the challenge and worked out in the shop for about 6–8 months. Then he said, “Go,” and I said, “Where?” He basically told me to go somewhere and sell screens. I go into engineering firms and do presentations at trade shows. Like Chris says, it’s been a good transition for me because I still get to travel. That feels like what I used to do all the time. That’s exciting for me, and it’s been a great opportunity.
Irrigation Leader: Were the skills that you learned growing up on a farm conducive to working in the shop at IWS?
Joel Irving: Absolutely. I don’t think I had ever experienced heat like the heat of the shop here in Bakersfield, but I got through it. If you want to learn about your product and be able to sell it properly, you need to dig into the nuts and bolts and find out how it operates. That’s what I had to do, and I learned from the best—our service guys.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about the history of the company and its mission.
Chris Gargan: We’ve been in business since 2003 with the objective of protecting pumps, irrigation pipelines, and irrigation systems by screening out debris. We manufacture what’s called a traveling water screen as well as troughs, conveyors, elevators, and many other bells and whistles. In the beginning, irrigation was our main focus, but we’ve branched out to many other industries, including wastewater treatment;
fish facilities; hydropower; other types of power plants, including geothermal and coal; and cooling tower applications.
Joel Irving: If you have debris in your water now, you Google it, come up with IWS, and contact us and explain the issue. Alternately, you meet Chris and me at a presentation or trade show and shake our hand. We start from there.
Irrigation Leader: What is the size range of your screens?
Chris Gargan: The smallest screen that we have built was 18 inches by 7 feet. The largest was over 13 feet by 80 feet. We have also built just about every size in between. We have also built screens for vertical installation, horizontal installation, and every angle in between.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your fish screens.
Chris Gargan: They are used at fish hatcheries, dams, run-of-the-river pump stations, recreational lakes, and the inlets to power plants and chemical plants. The openings in fish screens range from 1 millimeter to 2 inches, depending on the type of fish or wildlife the customer is trying to protect or exclude from their system.
Irrigation Leader: Are your fish screens typically traveling or stationary?
Chris Gargan: Our main focus is on traveling screens, but we also do stationary screens, trash racks, or stationary Grizzly screens. Typically, if you’re going to put up some type of screen, it makes most sense to choose an automated one so that you can reduce labor, risk of injury, and lost time, increasing the efficiency of your pumps and irrigation systems. A lot of customers see real cost benefits because of that.
Irrigation Leader: Does the traveling aspect of the screen increase the fish survival rate?
Chris Gargan: It does. It consistently reveals the clean screen surface as it travels, whereas the stationary screen will continue to get plugged until it’s manually cleaned. That’s one reason that a traveling screen increases efficiency: it prevents you from losing the flow of water into your system.
Joel Irving: Every location has different criteria for approach velocities. In some locations, you need to remove tons of debris, so an automated screen is best. Meanwhile, it also prevents fish from becoming impinged.
Irrigation Leader: Where around the world have you installed your traveling fish screens?
Chris Gargan: Algeria, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Puerto Rico, and locations in South America.
The international projects are mostly larger projects. All of them have multiple screens—between two and five. I’d say the smallest we have shipped out were probably two or three screens that ranged from 6 by 20 feet up to just under 10 by 35 feet. The screens we shipped to Indonesia were 10 by 40 feet. We shipped them in sections to be assembled during installation. We can also ship complete units. For a project in Peru, we just shipped material down and sent our service man and some tools, and he actually fabricated the screens in Peru. There are lots of options for getting equipment to a location.
Joel Irving: Our international projects also vary in terms of their purpose, from turnouts to power plants to firewall protection plants. In Canada, we have screens from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the East Coast all the way across to Vancouver on the West Coast. The projects are all different sizes.
Irrigation Leader: Do you have an office in Canada?
Joel Irving: We do, and it’s still growing. We foresee some big projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan this year, so we are preparing for that.
Irrigation Leader: What materials do you use in your screens, and how long do they last?
Chris Gargan: We fabricate using all types of material, including mild steel, stainless steel, and duplex materials. We have stainless steel in grades including 304, 316, and 317. A lot of saltwater applications require 316 stainless steel. As with a vehicle or any operating piece of machinery, with minimal maintenance, they can last just about as long as you want them to. Every 7 years or so, they should also have somewhat more extensive maintenance, such as the replacement of stretched or worn chains, bearings, strips, and weathered surfaces. Generally speaking, they’re built to last. The first screens Rich sold are still in operation.
Irrigation Leader: What is the average time frame from the beginning of a design until installation?
Chris Gargan: Our typical lead time from notice to proceed to shipping is 6–10 weeks, depending on the time of the year. Sometimes, 2 years might pass from the time we meet a customer at a trade show, give them a presentation, or establish contact through an internet inquiry and the time we finally deliver a screen. We can turn around a conceptual design and a budget quote within a week. Often, the customer will then consider it and do their due diligence to decide whether it works for them. While doing so, they will be paying close attention to their turnout, inlet, or system and may start to notice more issues. They start to realize that the value will be there, and of course they have to budget for it. Often, they follow up the following year.
Joel Irving: We make contact with these customers early on. It could be 5–7 years by the time they understand their situation and how our screens can benefit their company and get the money in place.
Irrigation Leader: What differences do you notice when working with different industries, countries, and projects?
Chris Gargan: Nothing is cookie cutter. Everything is unique. The larger international projects are less often at simple irrigation projects and more often at power plants, chemical plants, refineries, and mines. We go through a more extensive submittal and approval process with them. A lot of our overseas projects are with large international corporations. They’re well-known names in the power and fuel industries. They’re sticklers for their submittal and approval processes. We have no issue with that. We want to make sure that we are doing everything that is necessary for every company.
Irrigation Leader: What should readers know about IWS’s warranties?
Joel Irving: Our service is second to none in this business. That doesn’t mean that we just give service to the guy down the road from our manufacturing shop; we give service to every single customer, whether they have a massive project or just a simple ag screen. If they call us and are having issues, we’re going to handle them. If somebody calls in Canada and says they have issues with their screen and they need us to come up, we’re on a plane that day or the next.
Chris Gargan: We definitely pride ourselves on our service. Our philosophy is to offer a good product at a good price with great service and thereby earn customers for life. That’s what we strive to do every day.
Joel Irving: We want to sell multiple screens to our customers and have a goal of generating friendships with them. They’re not just customers to us, they’re friends. We consider every project to be one of our babies, and we want to make sure that they’re running for as long as possible.