Karen Edwards is not your typical office and program manager. She greets everyone with a smile, prides herself in knowing everyone’s name, and brightens every room she enters. On her days off, she loves to golf and spend time with friends, family, and her dogs. Karen has been working for the Idaho Water Users Association (IWUA) for the past 40 years and has seen the way things have changed and the way things have stayed the same for Idaho water users.
We talked to Karen to gain some insight on her career, her advice to people entering the water industry, and her projections for the future.
NWRA: How did you originally begin working for IWUA?
Karen: I moved to Idaho in 1976, sight unseen, from California and needed a job. I started looking in the newspaper for jobs, found an opening for Sherl L. Chapman Consulting, and drove into Boise from Caldwell for a job interview. I started on July 6, 1976, but at that time, IWUA was a full-time client of Sherl L.
Chapman Consulting instead of being my employer. Sherl was a water resource consultant and previously worked for the Idaho Department of Water Resources. In 2000, Sherl decided to retire and sell his business but the IWUA board felt it was time for the association to become the employer. Water issues were becoming more critical and required more legal understanding, so the board felt it was time to have an attorney as the executive director. It was at that time that Norm Semanko, who was on the board, and I were hired as the first employees of IWUA on July 1, 2000.
NWRA: How has IWUA changed since you started working there?
Karen: The goals and mission of IWUA itself haven’t changed but how the work gets done has changed. When I first started, there was only me and a typewriter. It was in 1985 that we got our first computer, and of course, it was blank! Not knowing anything about computers, it was a steep learning curve for us. Sherl’s impression was that you bought the computer, and it would do all these amazing things. However, in order to do those amazing things, you had to have the right programs and then input all the data. Now, it’s 2016, and I can’t imagine doing my job without one. Every time we sent a letter or mailing to the membership, I had to hand type a set of mailing labels. Now I just put the labels in the printer and basically push a button!
NWRA: What have been your favorite parts of working at IWUA?
Karen: The people. In 40 years, I’ve had 23 presidents and only 2 bosses. When I’m preparing name tags for either our annual convention or one of our water law seminars, I visualize the people so when they come to register, I don’t need to ask their name. I just hand them their materials. It makes them feel special and puts a smile on my face.
In addition, I like to help the people who call the office seeking advice. I get some very interesting phone calls from people looking for water information. I think they call IWUA because they use water and live in Idaho so IWUA must be the place to get their answers. Instead of brushing them off, saying I can’t help them or that doesn’t apply to us, I listen to what they have to say and then direct them to someone who can help them with their problem. One of my favorite calls is when they are releasing water in the spring from Lucky Peak Reservoir just outside of Boise on the Boise River. I’ve been asked to turn the water down because the water is flooding their flowers and ruining the duck nests. I try really hard not to laugh!
NWRA: What is your proudest accomplishment working for IWUA?
Karen: Probably the fact that I have sat at the same desk, literally, for 40 years. Not too many people can say that anymore. I found a job where my talents can be used and appreciated. I like to solve problems, and I enjoy a good challenge. I’ve also made many lifelong friends.
NWRA: What are some career lessons you have learned thus far?
Karen: Care about the job and the people you do the job for, and they will care about you. Don’t stop learning, and be open to change!
NWRA: Where do you see the water industry in 10 years?
Karen: Fighting state and federal regulations to keep our water in Idaho for Idahoans.
I think my first drought was in 1977–1978, and I learned how important and precious water is. Because of that, I realized the importance of what IWUA does to protect our water resources. I also think that over time, the importance of water is going to increase. I knew then that I could probably have my job for the rest of my working life.
NWRA: What advice would you give to people who are starting careers in the water industry?
Karen: Get out in the field and see what actually goes on. Meet the people you work with, learn from them, and be available.
NWRA: Looking forward, is there anything you would like to accomplish in the next 5–10 years?
Karen: I can’t think of anything except to help the next generation feel comfortable and to assist them in any way I can. Of course there is always retirement to look forward to!
We all know one thing for sure: When Karen does decide to retire, IWUA and all its members will miss her! Happy 40th anniversary, Karen! Thank you for all that you have done for water users in Idaho and in the West!
The strength of the National Water Resources Association (NWRA) is our members. Many of NWRA members have dedicated their careers to serving the water community.
Today, we are happy to highlight one individual who has been helping water users in Idaho for forty years and is still going strong. Idaho Water Users Association's Karen Edwards sits down with NWRA Legislative Intern Kaycee Royer to talk about her experiences and ongoing career.
Let us know if you have a NWRA member you would like us to feature in a future profile.