Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Lori Brady: Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District Sunnyside, Washington

Years working in irrigation: 30 years

Years as manager: 3½ years

Number of employees: 75

Size of service area in acres: 94,614 acres

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 378,274 acre-feet

Main crops irrigated: Row crops, hops, grapes, tree fruit

Predominant irrigation methods: Sprinkler 

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

Lori Brady: Our district dates back to the 1890s, so aging infrastructure is always a concern and a challenge. Our top challenge depends on the day. Our number 1 goal is to deliver water to the landowners in the most efficient way possible, but there are a lot of obstacles that have to be overcome to get there, including issues related to encroachment, water supply, attrition, funding, Waters of the United States, and the Clean Water Act.

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?

Lori Brady: We are currently about halfway through a 40-year water conservation program in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Washington State Department of Ecology. It involves converting open irrigation ditches and weir boxes to a buried, enclosed system. Two-thirds of the conserved water is reserved for in-stream flow for fish. When that project is complete, we will have half the district enclosed, and Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District’s (SVID)diversion will be reduced by about 47,000 acre-feet. 

Irrigation Leader: What kind of training do you provide for your employees? 

Lori Brady: Training never stops because there is always institutional knowledge that needs to be passed on. Historically, we haven’t had a high turnover at SVID, but recently, we’re starting to see a lot of people retire. Our workforce will be in transition for the next 6–7 years. With these retirements, we’re losing institutional knowledge. So we are trying our best to give the people who are being promoted within the ranks opportunities to learn from existing staff. It is also important to get outside training and attend conferences and workshops to network with peers.

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

Lori Brady: Typically, the district budgets about $10,000 for continuing education and training annually.

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

Lori Brady: The most important thing I have learned as a manager is to use others as a resource. In addition to my experience in the engineering department and in administration, I worked closely with Jim Trull for quite a few years and learned a lot from him. Jim was the type of leader who gave you the opportunity to get the training and experience you needed to broaden your skills as an employee. It is important to develop an engaged staff. Training is key, and it is important to delegate duties to staff and follow up with them. Well-trained employees can become involved in the major functions of the district.

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

Lori Brady: I think it’s really important to be direct and honest and to lead by example. A manager’s success is really the success of the staff. SVID has an impressive staff with a high level of expertise. They know what they need to do, and they get it done. 

Lori Brady is general manager of the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District in Sunnyside, Washington. She can be reached at bradyl@svid.org.