In the community

Flynn steps into top slot at Owyhee Irrigation District

Clancy Flynn is the new manager of the Owyhee Irrigation District. Flynn stepped into the post previously held by Jay Chamberlin last fall. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

NYSSA – Clancy Flynn wanted to pitch in the big leagues.

The new manager at the Owyhee Irrigation District said he carried the desire to be a Major League Baseball player all through school and into junior college.

His dream evaporated when he was playing fall ball at Wenatchee Valley College.

“The coach called me in to talk about the future. I think we were both kind of thinking I didn’t fit in,” said Flynn.

At the time Flynn had a full load of classes at the college and worked a full-time night job at the local Walmart.

“He was trying to convince me that I shouldn’t work and I was like, if you don’t give me a scholarship I have to work,” said Flynn.

He didn’t get a scholarship – and he didn’t stay on the team.

Instead, Flynn focused on his studies, obtained a bachelor’s degree in business management from Western Governors University in Utah in 2010 and looked around for a career.

Flynn, who grew up in Ephrata, Wash., said he sort of fell into the irrigation business two years after that meeting with his baseball coach.

A friend recommended a seasonal, part-time job with the Wenatchee Irrigation District. Flynn was hired and spent the next few months clearing canals and helping with repairs.

“Then I applied for the ditch rider position,” he said.

That job proved to be one he loved and without really realizing it Flynn was off to his career.

Flynn came on board at the Owyhee Irrigation District in October to take over from Jay Chamberlin, longtime district manager.

Since October he said he’s been learning the new job with careful guidance from Chamberlin who stayed on an extra few months to be an adviser.

Flynn isn’t a stranger to Owyhee Irrigation. In 2015, he managed an Owyhee project for Idaho’s South Board of Control.

Flynn was the manager of the Kennewick Irrigation District when he decided to apply to succeed Chamberlin.

“This presented an opportunity to get out into the country. I wanted to get back to a more farm-centric district,” said Flynn.

As director of the Kennewick Irrigation District, he said, he managed 11,000 acres and 8,000 accounts.

As the manager of the Owyhee Irrigation District he is responsible for about 1,800 customers and 67,000 acres.

Flynn, who lives in Vale with his wife Monica and their five children, said his career choice was the right move.

“I just really like irrigation. I like the people. You feel connected to the farms and you feel like you are doing something that matters,” he said.

Flynn said irrigation always presents challenges.

“No matter where you are or how old your water right is, there are no guarantees,” he said.

Flynn said the obstacles he faces at Owyhee Irrigation are similar to one faced by water managers across the West – maintaining infrastructure

“You fix what you can and you prioritize,” he said.

Flynn, who arrives at work before 6 a.m. each day, said there is nearly $2 billion worth of improvements needed on the Owyhee system.

“We need to find funding. The hard thing is you sit down and look at the budget and realize you need more money,” said Flynn.

Managing an irrigation district isn’t just about ensuring the water gets to the right place.

The job also requires an array of other responsibilities, including basic repairs to dikes and canals, said Flynn.

While his schedule is fairly stable during the winter months, when the the irrigation season hits – roughly spring until fall – his daily timetable changes drastically and fast.

“All bets are off during the water season,” he said, dealing with “canal breaks, staffing issues, river water elevation changes, aquatic weed infestations and the list could go on and on.”

Last year, he said, he ended up driving a chemical truck to treat canals because there was a shortage of drivers with CDL certifications.

The most visible aspect of the Owyhee Irrigation District is the four-mile-long Malheur River Siphon that carries water from the Mitchell Butte area to the Dead Ox Flat area north of Ontario.

The 80-inch steel pipe is a key piece of the original project completed in the late 1930s.

Flynn said the siphon “has its issues” but it is still an important part of the larger district irrigation template.

Flynn said navigating water through the Owyhee canal system is important to keep food on America’s table.

“If you lose too much irrigated farm ground you start having problems feeding everyone,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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