Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Chuck Freeman: Kennewick Irrigation District Kennewick, Washington

Years working in irrigation: 10

Years as manager: 39

Number of employees: 62 full time, 30 temporary

Size of service area in acres: 20,201

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 102,674

Main crops irrigated: Turf grass, orchards, grapes, cherries, apples, alfalfa hay

Predominant irrigation methods: Center pivot, drip, microspray 

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

Chuck Freeman: Urbanization is a big challenge. Unlike other urbanized districts, Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) provides project water to parcels; we do not hand off delivery to the cities we serve. KID is only 20,201 acres in size, but we serve over 65,000 people in a community of approximately 300,000 people. During my 10 years at the helm, KID has added around 300 new accounts per year. Meeting that demand requires that KID interact with builders and developers on a daily basis and with the cities regularly. 

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?

Chuck Freeman: We are working to secure our water supply for the future. Being at the end of an overallocated basin has its challenges. We are always evaluating and pursuing ways to protect the interests of our water users. As a risk management activity, we are lining all our canal systems. In about 8 years, 100 percent of our district will be lined. Additionally, we have created an aged infrastructure replacement crew, which is now 3 years into the task of replacing the worst of the old pipe in our residential subdivisions with brand new, American Water Works Association–standard facilities.

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel? 

Chuck Freeman: Finding people is becoming more difficult. That may be due to low unemployment or to how recruitment happens with the changing media landscape. Soft skills and institutional fit are important. We hire for attitude and then train for gaps in the skill set in most cases. 

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

Chuck Freeman: When we hire new employees, they take part in an orientation process in which we go over the employee handbook, the safety manual, and other policies and procedures. Risk-management experts associated with our insurance provide annual training for all staff on issues that are relevant to everybody, such as professionalism, diversity, and harassment. Other training depends on the position—for example, equipment training, accounting classes, or customer service training.

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

Chuck Freeman: We invest time and money developing staff and have initiated an internal leadership academy for new managers and supervisors. On average, we spend over $2,035 per employee per year. 

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

Chuck Freeman: Hire people smarter than you. As long as they can play well with others and stay in their lane, you can build a beautiful, forward-leaning team.

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

Chuck Freeman: You have to be fearless. Managers have to be able to chart a path to achieving their board’s goals, with input from their team and other experts. You are the board’s only employee; it manages you, and you manage everyone else. People may be elected to the board who have an agenda that does not include you. Even if you are on the losing end of politics, you still have to be able to do your job. You need the luxury to make the right call, even if it is not popular. 

Chuck Freeman is manager of Kennewick Irrigation District in Kennewick, Washington. He can be reached at cfreeman@kid.org.