Even the smallest irrigation district can benefit from making the leap to digital water accounting and order management, but for many small districts, enterprise software is unfeasibly expensive and complicated. That’s where Watervize steps in. Its digital platform has been designed specifically for small and medium-size water districts that need an affordable, basic tool to place and record water orders and manage operations.
In this interview, Watervize Managing Director Jack Linke tells Irrigation Leader what Watervize’s product does and what makes it appropriate for small water districts.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Jack Linke: I’m actually active duty in the military. I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona, for a few years, and I’m now stationed in Virginia. I’ve always been technically savvy, and while in Yuma I started a business developing web applications and assisting businesses with other technical tasks. In discussions with businesses in Yuma, I learned that one of the local irrigation districts was searching for a solution to update its system for managing water orders and water accounting. It was still doing everything on paper and initially asked for help with making an Excel workbook to improve their processes. Once I started learning more about the intricacies of how irrigation works, it became clear that a spreadsheet wasn’t going to cut it. The current solutions on the market all focused on big irrigation districts, and there wasn’t anything out there for smaller and medium-size irrigation districts—those with 500 customers or fewer. That’s where Watervize started.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about Watervize as a company.
Jack Linke: We were founded in early 2018 and are rapidly growing and improving. It has been an amazing experience to work with irrigation district staff and learn from professionals in irrigation. There are so many challenges in water these days, and there are a lot of products that can improve efficiency and accountability, but so many of them cater to the big guys, leaving hundreds of districts behind. We help irrigation districts meet these challenges by making enterprise-quality software tools available to anyone in irrigation.
Irrigation Leader: In what sense were existing products oriented toward bigger irrigation districts, and how is Watervize’s different?
Jack Linke: Pricing is significant. An irrigation district that has tens of millions of dollars coming in and out can afford a huge investment in conventional enterprise software like Rubicon or Truepoint. Another issue is operations. Existing software focuses on big districts that have already automated most of their equipment and operations and have the staff and experience for high-tech stuff. At many smaller districts, on the other hand, ditch riders still communicate in person with customers on a regular basis, take water measurements manually, and operate gates by hand. Smaller districts that have not taken the enormous leap to full automation within their district can benefit from the easy-to-use improvements Watervize brings without having to worry about the technical details and labor. It’s all in the cloud, it’s always up to date, and it does not require the district to manage special servers or hire technical staff.
Irrigation Leader: What tools are part of Watervize’s product? What can it do?
Jack Linke: We’ve made Watervize modular, since some districts need things that others don’t; however, the two primary tools we provide are water accounting and water order management. For districts that still read meters manually, Watervize makes it simple to record, track, and analyze the data. They can input relevant information at each gate and track water orders in real time from anywhere. We also provide a customer information portal where water users can place online water orders if they are technically inclined. They can log in, place their orders, and see past orders—all the information that you would expect from a utility. It’s like ordering coffee from Starbucks, but it’s water for agriculture instead. District staff can manage orders, assign orders to ditch riders, and communicate with customers through the application. It can also track what crops are growing on a specific field, what kind of irrigation is being used, and much more. While all these functions are available in Watervize, districts do not need to use each module.
We also include role-based access control. It is easy for a district to give an auditor read-only access, for example. It’s also easy to provide ditch riders the ability to place orders but not, say, to delete a customer. No matter the size of the district’s staff, it can easily set up the accounts it needs and make sure that the right people have access to the right information.
In the latest version of Watervize, we’re building in physical-asset and maintenance-management tools as well. Those tools will enable districts to track the history, maintenance needs, and manuals for all their waterways, gates, and other equipment.
Irrigation Leader: Were you the main programmer, or did you work with other programmers and developers?
Jack Linke: While I am the main programmer, I have been fortunate enough to speak with and learn from a wide range of folks in agriculture, irrigation, and reclamation. In particular, we are pleased to have been able to work with North Gila Valley Irrigation & Drainage District as our launch customer. The insights we gained from in-depth conversations with district staff and from working closely with the manager made it possible to create a flexible suite of tools. We partner with districts to understand their processes and help them become more efficient and effective.
Irrigation Leader: Can the platform be used on both computers and mobile devices?
Jack Linke: Watervize looks good on any device with internet access, whether that be a cell phone, a tablet, or a computer at the office.
Irrigation Leader: If your clients have some sort of issue with the software, can they call you and get support either remotely or in person?
Jack Linke: We have an online support desk that receives messages instantly. Additionally, we’ve got an automated help system that has information for each section of the application, a frequently asked questions page, and a glossary. We help new customers with onboarding through a 2‑day, hands-on training session with district staff or online via webinars. Our service level agreement is included in every contract, with an aim of 99.8 percent uptime. All the data in Watervize are still owned by the customer, and they can download their information at any time. We’ve focused on industry standard software development and operations principles, including routine backups and test cycles of software development before production deployment.
Irrigation Leader: How does your product help resolve discrepancies between orders and deliveries?
Jack Linke: Watervize puts the same information in front of the customer, the ditch rider, and the district management, so everybody’s on the same page. There are no questions about whether something was ordered or delivered. The statuses can be changed by the ditch rider in real time while they’re out in the field with the click of a button on their phone.
Irrigation Leader: Who are your existing clients?
Jack Linke: We have one right now, though we’re in talks with districts in Idaho, Nevada, and several more in the Phoenix and Yuma areas. The district we started with and still serve is North Gila Valley Irrigation & Drainage District in Yuma, Arizona. It’s relatively small, serving about 6,600 acres in a region often called the winter vegetable capital of the world, which made it perfect as a first customer. We were able to tailor a product to meet its needs, while learning more about what might be helpful to other irrigation districts and building out our service offerings.
Irrigation Leader: What results has North Gila seen from your product?
Jack Linke: When it started out, everything was on paper. Staff were printing out copies every day and doing the math manually. Watervize gives them the information that they need to manage their district and make sure they’re providing the water they’re supposed to. Calculations that used to be done manually are now automated. Watervize saves the district money by allowing ditch riders to focus on what’s important instead of fielding calls from customers all day. Customers always know when the water is coming and when it will stop. The ability to view and download charts, spreadsheets, and reports detailing historical water usage is a big step toward responsible water accounting. Data are always at hand for sharing, trend analysis, and historical recordkeeping. Our upcoming maintenance management tools will help keep district staff safe and operations and maintenance costs under control.
Irrigation Leader: Have you changed the app during the time you’ve been working with the district in response to its needs?
Jack Linke: Absolutely; we’ve made several changes. As I mentioned, the newest version of Watervize incorporates input from North Gila and the other districts we’ve talked to over the past 2 years as well as research we’ve done on the operations and needs of a wide range of districts.
Irrigation Leader: What are your plans for the future?
Jack Linke: Our focus over the next several years is on the western United States, with a longer-term goal to provide service to all the irrigation districts west of the Mississippi. Our primary customers at this time include districts using surface or pipe water to provide irrigation water for agricultural customers. We help districts make a technological leap without the challenges that they face from enterprise software. Enterprise products don’t always fit the business model and the business rules of a small irrigation district. Watervize is ideally primed to serve that market.