The Valuable Work of Small Irrigation Districts

By Kris Polly

The beauty of American agriculture lies not just in its epic magnitude and immense productivity, but in the fact that it so often has a local and small-scale character. Small and family farms are integral to U.S. agriculture; so too are small local irrigation districts and water companies. In this month’s Irrigation Leader, we bring you some of their stories. 

In our cover story, we interview Meredith Allen and Caroline Runge, the current and outgoing managers of Texas’s Menard County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, which is working to repair its historic irrigation canal, built by the Spanish in 1756, and to revitalize irrigated agriculture in Menard County. 

Elsewhere in Texas, Oscar Gonzalez of the Hidalgo County Water Control and Improvement District No. 19 is dealing with the encroachment of urban development and the complications caused by the construction of a wall on the U.S.‑Mexico border. 

In Arizona, General Manager Rex Green of Yuma Irrigation District is working to ensure food safety, to raise funds for infrastructure improvements, and to mitigate the effects of drought in an area that provides 90 percent of the United States’ winter produce. 

Mark McConnell, the general manager of western Nebraska’s Keith–Lincoln County Irrigation District, is working to pay for infrastructure improvements, in part by running water for Nebraska’s natural resources districts through his district’s canals during the offseason for groundwater recharge. 

Karl Burns, president of Colorado’s Stewart Ditch and Reservoir Company, tells us about the company’s recent Bureau of Reclamation–funded project to pipe a portion of its historic ditch with pipe manufactured by Diamond Plastics. 

General Manager Brad Edgerton of Nebraska’s Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District tells us about the radio communication towers that his district is putting up to operate its Rubicon automated gate system. 

Finally, we speak with Dee Waldron, a farmer in Weber County, Utah, who has undertaken significant water efficiency projects on his property. 

Small irrigation districts represent something truly admirable about the United States: How local producers come together to cooperatively build, fund, and operate infrastructure projects that benefit all, and how skillful managers leverage limited funds and resources to maintain and improve their districts’ water infrastructure. 

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and the president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at