General Manager | Twin Loups Irrigation District and Twin Loups Reclamation District
Years working in irrigation: 39
Years as a manager: 7
Number of employees: 13 full time; 2 summer part time
Size of service area in acres: 56,199
Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 50,000–55,000 in an average rainfall year
Main crops irrigated: Alfalfa, corn, soybeans
Predominant irrigation methods: Center pivot, gravity
Irrigation Leader: What is the top issue facing your irrigation district today?
Mike Wells: As with most districts, the budget is the main issue. The board’s goal, of course, is to stay in compliance with our payments to the Bureau of Reclamation for project construction costs and to be able to operate and do yearly maintenance on the infrastructure of the district. Operations would include employee cost, all vehicles, heavy equipment, and chemicals. If I had to pick, I would say inflation is the top issue.
Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?
Mike Wells: Although Twin Loups is one of the last of Reclamation’s irrigation projects, having been built in the 1980s, we are experiencing the need for more infrastructure repairs every year. Along with the staff of Reclamation’s Nebraska-Kansas Area Office in McCook, Nebraska, we conduct annual inspections of the reservoirs to assess the need for repairs. Preparing for any needed major repairs to the main infrastructure is foremost. Maintaining our present reserves and adding to them on a regular basis will make it possible to make repairs as needed. Incorporating more advanced technologies in our meters and continuing to install automation to control canal gates and monitor canal levels remotely is also in our future plans.
Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel?
Mike Wells: Finding and retaining good people is a top issue. Nebraska has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the United States, so we have to be competitive with wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Irrigation Leader: What training do you currently provide your employees?
Mike Wells: Currently, we pay for and encourage training in three categories. First, training for pesticide applications for rights of way and aquatic herbicide applications. Magnicide applications require annual certification. Second, training on heavy equipment when needed. Third, the district also pays for employees to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training each year?
Mike Wells: We average $2,000 per year.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of safety programs do you have in place?
Mike Wells: We hold bimonthly toolbox meetings, which usually focus on activities taking place at the time. We supply air monitors for enclosed spaces and train employees on how to supply air if needed. We train on how to be safe when operating or working close to heavy equipment or when working next to swiftly flowing water and on how to use appropriate safety harnesses. The importance of safely using the various chemicals we come in contact with cannot be overstated.
Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as a manager?
Mike Wells: To be able to predict what effects your decisions have, whether on personnel or on the district’s bottom line.
Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager?
Mike Wells: You need to plan for the future, whether near or long term. Listen to the employees: Their input is usually focused on certain aspects of the operation where they can see the solution. Many times, it’s best to suggest and then get out of the way. You need to also be a negotiator and a troubleshooter.
Irrigation Leader: What is the best way to work with a board of directors?
Mike Wells: Communication is key. Let them know what projects have been completed. Give updates on current projects and recommendations for the future. Keep them up to date on state and federal activities that may affect the district. Inform them of any complaints from the water users, the general public, or the staff. Review the budget on a monthly basis.
Mike Wells is the general manager of the Twin Loups Irrigation District and the Twin Loups Reclamation District.