The Idaho Water Users Association (IWUA) promotes the development, control, conservation, preservation, and utilization of the water resources of the state of Idaho. IWUA’s members include around 300 irrigation districts, canal companies, groundwater districts, agribusinesses, public water supply organizations, private companies, and individuals from around the state who collectively manage water supplies for over 3 million acres of irrigated Idaho farmland. In this interview, Paul Arrington, IWUA’s executive director and general counsel, tells Irrigation Leader about the challenges the association has had to face and how it has adjusted its operations to support its members.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about yourself and the IWUA.
Paul Arrington: I was born and raised in Idaho. I grew up in a the south-central city of Twin Falls, went to Boise State University, and then got a law degree from Gonzaga University. After graduating, I came back to Twin Falls and practiced water law at the law firm of Barker Rosholt & Simpson for 13 years. There, I got to work with Al Barker, John Rosholt, Norm Semanko, John Simpson, and other great minds of Idaho water. In 2017, Norm Semanko, who was serving as the executive director of the IWUA, decided to go back into private practice. I was ready to get out of private practice, and working for the IWUA had always appealed to me, so I applied to be its new executive director and was fortunate enough to be chosen. I’ve been serving for 3 years and am just living the dream.
The IWUA was formed in 1938 as an association of agricultural water-delivery entities, including irrigation districts, canal companies, and ditch companies; we’ve recently expanded our general membership to include groundwater districts. We also have business members, including chemical companies, liner companies, and other professional firms that support the water delivery industry.
Irrigation Leader: How has the COVID‑19 pandemic affected your operations and your members?
Paul Arrington: It hasn’t caused huge changes to the day-to-day work of the association itself. There are usually only two of us in the office, and we have been working from home, but we still do the same things. The legislative session was just finishing around the time the pandemic reached the United States. For me personally, the extensive travel and many meetings I had scheduled for March, April, and May were all canceled, and I got some time back on a personal level.
The pandemic has made us ask how we can use technology to provide better services for our members. We’ve acquired a Zoom account and done a number of virtual member meetings. We’re doing our board meeting via Zoom and offered to host our members’ board meetings when they couldn’t do them in person because of social distancing. Quite a few of our members took us up on the offer.
Our members been affected like everybody else. Around 90–95 percent of our members are agricultural water-delivery entities that are still delivering water to fields. Those deliveries must happen; farmers are planting fields and neighborhoods are firing up their irrigation systems. Our member agencies have had to incorporate social distancing. A few member organizations had employees come down with COVID‑19; they had to do some extra cleaning. Offices have been closed. Payment has been done via payment boxes out front, and communication is being done at the end of driveways or across the ditch bank, as opposed to with handshakes and pats on the back. Otherwise, it is business as usual.
Irrigation Leader: Do you expect any of the changes you have made to be retained after the pandemic is over?
Paul Arrington: We will continue to hold Zoom meetings. My job requires a lot of traveling—I’d say I travel 2 weeks out of every month for meetings. The pandemic has forced us all to realize that maybe we don’t need to attend every meeting in person. I anticipate that we’ll hold a lot more meetings virtually. We are starting up a quarterly brown-bag-lunch educational series called H2‑Know that we will hold via Zoom. It will be interesting to see how this changes our events moving forward, particularly our summer seminars at the end of August and our convention in January. We anticipate that both of those will be affected, although we don’t know how yet. The summer seminar is planned for August 31–September 1 in Sun Valley and the annual convention is January 18–21, 2021, in Boise.
Irrigation Leader: What advice do you have for other associations?
Paul Arrington: Take advantage of these opportunities to find efficiencies and ways to offer different and better products to your members. Sitting and worrying about this situation does nobody any good, but if you look at it as an opportunity to step out on a limb a little bit, people will appreciate your willingness to innovate for the common good. If our virtual meetings had failed, I don’t think people would have been all that upset about it. They would have recognized that we were trying to do something new and innovative. Thankfully, they worked, which is even better. There is an opportunity here to take advantage of the moment to try to achieve some innovation and efficiency.