Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

Michelle Reimers Turlock, CA

General Manager | Turock Irrigation District

Years working in irrigation: 16 

Years as manager: 14 

Number of employees: 458 (both power and water) 

Size of service area in acres: 423,680 

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 441,314 (average during 2007–2021 irrigation seasons) 

Main crops irrigated: Alfalfa, almonds, corn, oats, walnuts 

Predominant irrigation methods: Flood, micro/drip 

 

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

Michelle Reimers: The effects of climate change have added a large amount of complexity and variability to our water supply and our management efforts. We have made significant investments in several new technologies, efforts, and pilot projects to help us navigate drought cycles and to capture more water during flood events. Also, constant state regulatory efforts present significant challenges to maintaining water supply reliability. 

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for? 

Michelle Reimers: Our canal system is more than 120 years old and is in need of regular repair and retrofit. This translates to capital improvements that take time and planning, both on the physical end and the fiduciary end. We have begun the long process of transitioning 250 miles of gravity-fed canals to a more modern and responsive system. Another new venture, Project Nexus, is a pilot project to save water from evaporation by covering stretches of canal with solar panels to generate renewable energy. 

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel? 

Michelle Reimers: With the average age of TID employees at 44, and with 19 percent of employees aged 55 or older, we have a workforce that will be retiring en masse soon. That means that recruiting, training, and retaining knowledgeable, skillful, experienced, and dedicated employees will be a major lift. Succession planning for transferring institutional knowledge to the next generation will be critical. 

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

Michelle Reimers: We provide the training required by the state and federal governments as well as a robust cybersecurity awareness online training. Also, we often provide targeted training and on-the-job training. We are kicking off a new program this year, the TID Leadership Academy, currently focused on manager-level employees. 

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

Michelle Reimers: We have a six-figure training budget that varies from year to year, based on specialty trainings and required certifications. We have invested over $100,000 in the development of the TID Leadership Academy. 

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

Michelle Reimers: TID has a constantly evolving health and wellness program in addition to our cornerstone injury- and illness-prevention program. A safety committee regularly reviews workplace injuries to improve work methods and personal protective equipment. Staff also host monthly safety trainings. TID’s security and emergency preparedness division has created numerous detailed hazard mitigation and mutual aid plans. 

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

Michelle Reimers: Be authentic. Be personable and genuine, because everyone knows when you are not. Listen. Seek input from all voices and perspectives. Give feedback, both good and bad, and do it frequently; don’t wait for the annual review. Share the vision of the company and how you anticipate the organization working together to achieve that vision. Make decisions—it’s surprising that many managers can’t do this. And be sure to explain the why behind your decision. 

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

Michelle Reimers: Honesty. It’s the foundation of trust. Share the positive and the negative. Learn to trust others, and earn trust through your words and actions. Planning. Have a plan to chart your course, for the known and the unknown, but be flexible enough to adapt the plan as needed. Vulnerability. It shows your humanity and that you are imperfect. 

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

Michelle Reimers: Have open, honest, two-way communication. Set annual goals and operate under a solid strategic plan. When you present problems to the board, have solutions and a recommendation. Address expectations (both the board’s and your own) at the outset and continue to readdress them at scheduled points during their tenures and your tenure. 

Michelle Reimers is the general manager of Turlock Irrigation District. For more on the district, visit tid.org.