With more than 30 years serving the region with KID, DeWayne shares his thoughts, experiences, and how the job has changed.
DeWayne Miller has been with the Kennewick Irrigation District for about 36 years. He is the longest tenured member of the District. Over the years, DeWayne has seen many changes to the Tri-Cities — and to the District — and has worked through several droughts. Back in the early years of DeWayne’s career, the area the District served was mainly orchards, and some urban and residential customers; now many of the customers DeWayne assists are in urban and residential areas and fewer are agricultural. Back in those days, he recalls that KID delivered to around twenty pressurized service areas (commercial and neighborhood areas); today, there are nearly two hundred.
As the area has changed, so has KID. Like all long-standing organizations, KID has continued to move forward in order to meet the needs of the community and improve operations. With over 30 years of growth and modernization, you could expect that DeWayne’s job looks a bit different today than it did on his first day.
When DeWayne began working for KID in 1979, he performed general maintenance duties for the District and worked with just one other person; together, they made up the entire field crew. In the early years he served in many capacities doing just about everything that needed to be done, but today his is just one of the many different positions that make up a crew of nearly 30 field staff.
Back in the day, he shared a single 5-gallon bucket of tools with his supervisor and together they relied on wisdom and experience to address breaks and breakdowns. They resolved problems more with trial and error than technology, and without electronic mapping, “you never really knew what you were dealing with until you got there” DeWayne says. Today, his job relies more on technology and specialized training; now the wrenches and pliers are paired with laptops, geographic information software, radios, and cell phones.
With so many changes in the past 30-plus years, DeWayne notes that the one thing that hasn’t changed are the impacts of the little acts of kindness he’s experienced. These acts go a long way in being a good neighbor. As an example, DeWayne tells the story of the time he helped a disabled senior with his filter “because it was the right thing to do.” Community is built by the small acts that take just a moment of time.
One of the more interesting things DeWayne shares is his experience working through drought conditions. What stands out to him is the increased frequency and intensity of the droughts impacting the Tri-Cities. When asked about memories of past droughts, he states that it changes things to have so many more people who expect “water on demand,” because in the past the system delivered measured amounts of water to farms and orchards. He admits, beyond that, that his recollection of previous droughts is made up of what didn’t work; for instance, in the past “turning water off and on wreaked havoc on the system, causing breaks and breakdowns constantly” throughout the season.
When asked how this year’s drought compared to others he has gone through, he immediately says with a smile “This one (drought) was much better…the technology we have, the improvements we’ve made to the canals and infrastructure, and the watering schedule all made a huge difference! We saw fewer breaks and shutdowns and people just seemed to be happier with how things were going.” He admits that things were not perfect, but one thing that has kept him rolling with the changes at KID for over 30 years is the same thing he says helped with this year’s drought: “As long as things are moving, there is hope…and that is encouraging.”