Longtime Idaho Department of Water Resources Watermaster, Lyle Swank, is set to retire this month after working for the department for 41 years.
Swank began as an Agricultural Engineer out of college. Since then he has been an Engineer-in-Training, a Professional Engineer, Assistant Watermaster and Deputy Watermaster for Water District 1 and has worked as the Watermaster for Water District 27.
“Since Ron Carlson retired, I’ve also been the Regional Manager for the Eastern Region of Idaho Department of Water Resources since 2006,” he said.
Swank said part of the reason he got involved with the department of water resources was his realization from a young age how important a reliable water supply is for the region.
“Growing up on a farm which was primarily a dry farm, but with some irrigation, I could see the value of having a consistent and reliable water supply,” he said. “Not only the value of the increased crop production every year, but the value of the land with irrigation water rights is in proportion to the future production. Water supply reliability is a large part of the land’s ability to consistently produce crops into the future.”
In addition to delivery and administration of water rights, Swank said he has worked to improve the professionalism and technical operations of the Snake River and Reservoirs in the water district.
He said one of his most “challenging” accomplishments was helping make water supply information available on the internet. Overall, he said the water management has enabled more consistent water delivery to canals which can improve water supplies during dry years and reduce flooding during wet years.
“Some computer display programs which were developed to simulate snow, water supply and diversion operations might have been one of my most challenging accomplishments,” he said.
When Swank first started with Water District 1, the state of the art was weekly or continuous recorder charts to track gage heights of canals. Chart recorders had to be digitized and manually entered into databases. Snow courses were only measured once per month starting Jan. 1. Now, satellite telemetry or cell phone data collection has been state of the art for a couple of decades. 15 minute readings can provide near continuous river, canal or reservoir gage height data as needed. Snotel sites have daily records and transmission and Ramped Broad-Crested Weirs were designed and constructed.
Aside from missing many of his coworkers following his retirement, Swank said he will also working with other administrations in the water supply fields.
“In the big picture, we are all trying to manage highly variable water supplies to the best of our ability,” he said. “The watermaster is often at the heart of water delivery and water administration of the water to those water users.”
On the other hand, Swank said one thing he won’t necessarily miss is the many meetings he was required to attend and the stressful burden a water manager can bear.
“Water distribution from rivers and reservoirs through canals is not always as easy as turning on the pressurized tap at your home, and water supply can be even more limited in some difficult years. Some people like to “fight” over water,” he said. “Don’t shoot the messenger. I’ve never understood the news anchor who blames the weather reporter on the air for “bad” weather.”
After his retirement Swank said he plans to travel more and spend more time with his family.
“I will likely do something on a more part time basis and also have more time for skiing, golfing as well as vacations with my wife and time with family,” he said.