Flynn enters first position in Owyhee Irrigation District


The Washington state native succeeds longtime manager Jay Chamberlin. Flynn comes to the district after a long career in irrigation.

Clancy Flynn is the new Owyhee Irrigation District Manager. Flynn took over the job previously held by Jay Chamberlin last fall. (The Company/PAT CALDWELL)

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

The new Owyhee Irrigation District superintendent said he carried the desire to be a Major League Baseball player all the way through school and college.

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

“Coach called me to talk about the future. I think we both thought I didn’t belong,” Flynn said.

At the time, Flynn had a full college course load and worked full-time night shifts at the local Walmart.

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

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

Instead, Flynn focused on his studies, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western Governors University in Utah in 2010, and seeking a career.

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

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

“Then I applied for the job of ditch driver,” he said.

This job turned out to be one he loved and without really realizing it, Flynn was off to his career.

Flynn joined the Owyhee Irrigation District in October to succeed longtime district manager Jay Chamberlin.

Since October he said he had been learning the new job with the sound advice of Chamberlin who stayed on for a few more months to be an adviser.

Flynn is no stranger to Owyhee Irrigation. In 2015, he managed an Owyhee project for the Idaho South Board of Control.

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

“It was an opportunity to go out into the country. I wanted to go back to a more agriculture-centric district,” Flynn said.

As Kennewick Irrigation District Manager, he said, he managed 11,000 acres and 8,000 accounts.

As Owyhee Irrigation District Manager, he is responsible for approximately 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 one.

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

Flynn said irrigation always presents challenges.

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

Flynn said the obstacles he faces at Owyhee Irrigation are similar to those 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 were nearly $2 billion in improvements needed on the Owyhee system.

“We have to find funding. The hard part is sitting down and looking at the budget and realizing you need more money,” Flynn said.

Managing an irrigation district is not just about making sure the water gets to the right place.

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

Although his schedule is fairly stable during the winter months, when the irrigation season arrives – roughly spring through fall – his daily schedule changes drastically and quickly.

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

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

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

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

Flynn said the siphon “has its issues,” but remains an important part of the larger district irrigation model.

Flynn said water navigation through Owyhee’s canal system is important to keeping food on America’s table.

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

Topical advice? Contact journalist Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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