Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Donovan Neese Buckeye, AZ

Superintendent | Roosevelt Irrigation District

Years working in irrigation: 25 

Years as manager: 15 

Number of employees: 35 

Size of service area in acres: 36,000 

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 130,000 

Main crops irrigated: Alfalfa, cotton, corn, sorghum, wheat 

Predominant irrigation methods: Flood 

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

Donovan Neese: The most immediate issue is labor and payroll. Our payroll continues to increase. Our ability to find labor has improved recently, but it’s still tight. Looking at the long term, we have a serious aging infrastructure problem, like everybody else. The district is 90 years old, and we have facilities that are 90 years old. Of course, there’s always the challenge of keeping up with regulations and legislation. We need to monitor whatever new thing is coming down the pipeline that’s going to change how we do our business. 

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for? 

Donovan Neese: We continue to urbanize quickly, which is a challenge. One day, we’re going to have to convert our base of sales from irrigation and agriculture to municipal. 

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel? 

Donovan Neese: Since we manage a resource on behalf of others, we need to keep our folks focused on efficiency across the district. Efficiency in water operations, maintenance, and administration—every nickel counts. The challenge for me as a manager is getting engagement from staff in that efficiency. 

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

Donovan Neese: We do a minimal amount of external training, but we do a lot of internal training. When employees start or are moved to a new position, they shadow more-experienced employees. We hold internal training sessions in which senior staff will review fundamentals or teach new skills. 

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

Donovan Neese: Probably less than a couple thousand dollars a year. 

Irrigation Leader: What kind of safety programs do you have in place? 

Donovan Neese: Other than the specific regulations that we have our supervisors monitor, it’s mostly common-sense safety procedures. 

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

Donovan Neese: You must take care of personnel issues directly and quickly; otherwise, they get out of control. And if you don’t regularly monitor how things are getting done, you’re going to get into trouble. 

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

Donovan Neese: Never stop making yourself better. Always sharpen your skills, continue to read books, talk to people, and network. The other thing that’s important is to do the hard things first, especially if you can do them first thing in the morning. 

Irrigation Leader: What is the best way to work with a board of directors?

Donovan Neese: Be honest and do your homework. 

Donovan L. Neese is the superintendent of the Roosevelt Irrigation District. For more about the district, visit rooseveltirrigation.org.