BY ANNA GENASCI
Special to the Journal
Passion, progress and planning. Those three words are ones that accurately describe Michelle Reimers and her role as General Manager with the Turlock Irrigation District (TID). In early 2020, Reimers became the first woman to hold the role in the more than 135-year history of the district.
This is not where her journey began. Reimers grew up in Ceres, and as a young adult her goal was to get out of town. She went to San Diego State for a semester and soon realized that between work and school, she didn't have the time or money to fly home as often as she wanted. So, she moved back to the Valley and lived with her sister while she attended California State University, Stanislaus, majoring in organization communication.
“At first I thought I wanted to do something sexy, like advertising, but I didn't want to move from my home,” she said.
Reimers began working for Romeo Medical Clinic in Work Wellness and later became the Public Information Officer for TID.
“My grandparents had an almond ranch and I wanted to do a job that had an agricultural connection,” she said.
In 2006 Reimers became TID’s Communication Specialist and worked hard in her role to expand to Governmental Affairs and eventually became Assistant General Manager. Not being an engineer or an attorney, this was a new approach for TID.
In 2019, she applied for the General Manager Position and was awarded the role in 2020. Three months later COVID hit.
Prior to the pandemic, Reimers had completed safety and emergency training with Stanislaus County and TID had already invested the time in an infectious disease emergency plan just in case of a pandemic.
“I'm so proud of the team. We kept the lights on. I felt responsible for the customers we serve and making decisions and communicating during that time was essential,” she shared.
TID even received an award for their COVID response plan. One could argue that leaders truly define themselves in a crisis.
Two years later Reimers finds that the job is still intense.
“Maintaining the balance between work and home only happens with good people on your team. I have a great husband who is so supportive and a professional coach. My boys know that mommy goes to D.C. and fights for water,” Reimers said.
Jasper, 12, and Wyatt, 10, are proud of their mom. Reimers said when she took on this role, she vowed not to take work home, “unless there was an emergency.” She shared with a smile that her boys enjoy reading, time at the ranch, and their hunter safety classes.
So, with an intense demanding job, how does she unwind? “Does wine count?” Reimers chuckled. To clear her head, she runs. She obviously likes a challenge and ran her first marathon. And in her words, “I finished!”
Reimers and her family enjoy spending time in Orland, where her husband’s family has almonds, walnuts, and cattle.
“It's a nice getaway and some family time,” she said. “If I were to take a one-year sabbatical, I would farm. There's something peaceful about being your own boss, I just love harvest time.”
Reimers takes vacation time every year during harvest to rake, “the work is fulfilling.”
When she applied for General Manager two years ago, she had the benefit of having already been with TID and being able to ask questions.
“I learned a lot from the previous General Manager and was given opportunities to grow and a glimpse of what this role might look like,” she said.
Reimers spoke about areas that need improvement.
“The water and energy landscape is moving. We have to look at making changes with the uncertainty of rainfall. How can we make this work? How can we be efficient? What partnerships and relationships do we need to improve?”
Following the interview with Reimers, I was given the opportunity to sit in on a grower meeting. TID met with their growers to discuss water allotments in times of drought. It was clear that TID takes planning very seriously, and while the rainfall may not be forecasted as we would hope, growers can make decisions and plan based on TID’s efforts of mapping out a plan.
Reimers spoke fondly of her great management team and the new projects they've been able to bring to fruition. TID now has a podcast, TID Water & Power Podcast.
“We wanted more communication and transparency. We wanted people to know what it takes to get water and energy to our customers,” she said.
In addition to investing in communication, Reimers invests in her team, making sure that leadership classes are available for professional development.
And, in the area of water and planning, TID has created an online water platform, with planning tools and usage tools. It allows for customer feedback and a farmer-to-farmer water transfer program.
Reimers spends much of her time around water looking at voluntary agreements, speaking at conferences and looking for opportunities of partnership.
In the world of energy, TID is looking at being GHG free by 2045.
With all this going on, she acknowledges that no week is normal.
“I have to adapt and be flexible. My time is usually broken up between board meetings, voluntary agreements, management meetings and meetings with staff. I get asked regularly to speak at conferences and I enjoy it.”
It's also worth mentioning that Reimers writes a handwritten letter to all TID employees who earn a service award.
What does Reimers love most about her job? As she glances around her office, to the historical photos of TID and Don Pedro, she recognizes that this is a pivotal time once again.
“Who do we want to be? How will we continue to provide both water and electricity? What is our legacy?”
Reimers is the first woman in TID history to hold this role. I asked her if she had any advice for women: “You have to speak up, sit at the table, be part of the conversation. Women should champion other women. Good leaders have self-awareness and ask the question ‘how can we make it better.’”
— Anna Genasci is the Farm News Editor for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. Stanislaus County Farm Bureau is dedicated to serving as the voice of Stanislaus County agriculture at all levels of government, while providing programs to assist its farms and family members and educate the general public of needs and importance to agriculture.