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The Faces of Yuba Water Senior Ditch Tenders

Yuba County Water Agency's senior ditch tenders are responsible for diverting and managing irrigation water for farmers and ranchers throughout southern Yuba County. With a combined 18 years of service, Keith Patterson and Tony Placencia make up the team that actively supplies water to approximately 30,500 acres of productive farmland, for farmers and ranchers that raise livestock and grow crops such as rice, peaches, plums and much more. We recently had the opportunity to gain a little more insight into the everyday lives of the men behind the canal system. Here is what we learned:

What do you do for YCWA?

Keith: As a ditch tender, I divert and manage irrigation water for farmers and ranchers in southern Yuba County. From rice to peaches, and almonds to pasture grass, I control the weirs, valves and canal ways that provide water to four different water districts in our boundaries.

Photo: Tony Placencia (left), Keith Patterson (right)

What does your average day look like? What are some of your essential duties?

Tony: On an average day, I control flows, start and shut off pumping stations and keep track of how much water is being used and distributed to our irrigation districts. Additionally, some of my essential duties include clearing vegetation from roadways and spraying weeds, as well as running the backhoe to keep the fire hazard low and any potential holes and leaks visible.

How do your duties differ throughout the year?

Keith: The season usually begins around April 1 and ends Feb. 1. During this time period, the demand for water is like a roller coaster. In early April, demand is high because of rice flood and spring bloom for trees. In mid-July, the demand curtails slightly, giving us a chance to take a vacation. Once the crops are fully grown and water is not needed, things slow down and maintenance can be done.

After the crops are harvested, water demand goes back up again due to air quality regulations that don't allow for rice straw to be burned as a form of decomposition. Instead, the straw is flooded and stomped into the ground to rot. During the fall and early winter, water needs mostly vary on the weather. Once the rains begin, water levels are lowered and it becomes more drain control and keeping storm flows from damaging infrastructure. During the winter months, the majority of water usage is for duck season, and when that ends on Jan. 31, that's when we shut the system off.

What do you enjoy most about working for YCWA?

Tony: I really enjoy being a part of an agency that successfully delivers water to all of the local farmers and ranchers, and is able to help support the local economy as a result.

Keith: What I enjoy most about working for YCWA is that my job is outdoors and that I'm not stuck inside a warehouse or office.

Tell us something about yourself that most of us don't know.

Keith: Before I started with YCWA, I worked with Les Schwab Tire Center in Marysville for seven years. While I was there, I met and did service for all of the water customers that I serve now, which really helped foster my relationships with them.

Tony: I graduated from Wheatland High School. I have been married for 10 years, and love playing soccer and spending time with my family and two children, Julian and Sophia.

What are three words that you would use to describe YCWA?

Tony: Safe, teamwork, excellent

Keith: Supportive, caring, enriching