General Manager | Delta Lake Irrigation District
Years working in irrigation: 34
Years as manager: 10
Number of employees: 56
Size of service area in acres: 70,000
Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: 125,000
Main crops irrigated: Citrus fruit, corn, cotton, grain, sugarcane, vegetables
Predominant irrigation methods: Flood, drip, sprinkler
Irrigation Leader: What is the top issue facing your district today?
Troy Allen: The top issue is finding employees who are willing to work. The employee issue started getting bad around 2018. Over the past 2 years, it’s gotten a lot worse. Since the COVID‑19 pandemic set in, there have been times when we had fewer than 40 employees. We need to be somewhere in the 48– 55 range to be able to manage a district of this size properly.
Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for?
Troy Allen: We’re preparing for the possibility of being short on water in the summer months. The irrigation districts in the Lower Rio Grande Valley rely on water stored in Amistad and Falcon Reservoirs, which are both low due to lack of rainfall in the watershed. Some of the irrigation districts in the valley are currently allocating water to their farmers, meaning that they allow their farmers a determined amount of irrigations per acre of land. We’re not currently on allocation, but it looks like that is a possibility around June or July of this year.
Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel?
Troy Allen: Finding people who want to work. Once they find out that it’s hard work and they will be outside in the sun, some of the employees we hire only last between 1 day and 3 weeks before they quit. Most of the younger employees do not last, so we’re having to try to adapt and see if we can find ways to entice them to come work. I end up hiring 40‑to 70‑year-old people who will work, but there are some tasks you need younger hands to do.
Irrigation Leader: What training do you currently provide your employees?
Troy Allen: All new employees are trained in house by current staff. We have one gentleman who’s been with us for 35 years. We put all our general labor hires with him for 3–4 weeks so they can see how he repairs pipelines, mixes cement for repairs, and installs new pipe. We also outsource some training for certain employees, depending on their position.
Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training each year?
Troy Allen: For some of the office staff, we spend $100–$500 per person per year. We generally train outdoor staff in house. If we do send them to equipment or safety training, it could cost $300–$500 per person per year.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of safety programs do you have in place?
Troy Allen: We do tailgate safety training on a biweekly basis. We also show safety training videos on a quarterly basis. Texas Mutual Insurance is our worker’s compensation provider and also provides safety trainings for us.
Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as a manager?
Troy Allen: The importance of keeping your employees safe. To me, that’s number 1. It’s expensive for districts not to follow health and safety practices.
Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager?
Troy Allen: Being able to deal with people. You also need to be knowledgeable about how irrigation and drainage work, to have a good business sense, and to understand general construction. It’s important to try to treat all your customers equally, even if they are on the board of directors.
Irrigation Leader: What is the best way to work with a board of directors?
Troy Allen: I have a wonderful board of directors, and I truly appreciate their support. It’s wonderful working with a board that wants to continue making improvements in the district. There may be topics on a meeting agenda that all my board members don’t agree with 100 percent, but they’ll discuss them and come to a consensus.