Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Gabriel Varela Cano La Serena, Chile

President | Miraflores Canal and Elqui River Joint Board of Control 

Years working in irrigation: 20 

Years as manager: 14 

Number of employees: 21 

Size of service area in acres: 29,650, plus the supply of half the drinking water for a municipal system serving 600,000 people 

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 105,390–194,570, plus 16,214 acre-feet for municipal use 

Main crops irrigated: Citrus fruit, grapes, vegetables 

Predominant irrigation methods: Drip, drip tape 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: The great challenge that we are addressing as an organization is improving the efficiency of our water deliveries to the irrigation canals. We currently make prorated deliveries to water rights holders. With reference to our reservoirs, we are already taking the first step in the regulation of the waters of our basin: From 2007 to the present, using Rubicon’s FlumeGates, we have installed telemetry and remote control for 95 percent of the water we deliver. In parallel, we are working with the data generated by our measurements and with models of the effects of climate change, which allow us to project our allotments two or three seasons in advance with greater confidence. 

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for? 

Gabriel Varela Cano: We and several other institutions, both public and private, are working on a roadmap toward integrated water resources management. We are working to build a virtuous circle in which academia, the national government, and the private sector establish synergy and make water resources a main focus of sustainable and efficient management in the medium and long terms. 

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel? 

Gabriel Varela Cano: The implementation of new technologies to improve our work requires employees who respond to the demands of our users and who work as a unified force to achieve the objective of water efficiency. The challenge is to retain trained personnel in a good working environment. 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: We create continuous and permanent trainings for our workers, including in new technological systems and in risk prevention. We work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Rubicon support team to keep our gates functional so that we can have an accurate overview of how much water we are delivering. 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: These expenses are still low—around 2 percent of the organization’s budget. 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: We have a risk prevention professional and a risk control program, as well as security cameras and accredited security staff. We are working on a plan to obtain International Organization for Standardization certifications that certify our organization’s good practices. 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: Dialogue is a powerful tool for arriving at consensus. So is knowing how to listen and observe everything in a broad-minded way so as to be able to make the best decision for the organization. In order to establish agreements, it is necessary for the community to work together with private industry and the public sector. Attempting to advance alone is very difficult. 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: Respect for different opinions and an understanding of the problems of our users is the key to maintaining our priorities amid the many difficulties we can face as an organization. 

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

Gabriel Varela Cano: The best way is for each director, as a representative of the water users and the different uses the water is put to, to understand the community’s needs and the difficult current situation we find ourselves in, so that they can come to an agreement on the best solutions for a sustainable use of the water in the basin. 


Gabriel Varela Cano is the president of the Miraflores Canal and the Elqui River Joint Board of Control (Junta de Vigilancia Río Elqui y Sus Afluentes). For more on the Elqui River Joint Board of Control, visit www.rioelqui.cl.