Karen Edwards retired as the Idaho Water Users Association office and program manager Dec. 31 after more than 43 years of service — but quickly returned in a consulting role to help during the group’s busiest season.
“There is a lot more in the job with the convention coming up,” she said. “We are inundated this time of year.”
Edwards, 66, was referring to IWUA’s annual convention Jan. 20-23 in Boise, a series of ditch-rider workshops Feb. 11-13, a series of pesticide-applicator certification workshops Feb. 25-27 and other activities leading up to the group’s annual water law and environmental issues seminar June 8-9 in Sun Valley.
She plans to keep working at the downtown Boise office Tuesdays and Thursdays through March, “depending on what they need me to do.”
Her successor, Kathryn Hartman, 27, arrived in late October, a busy time that she said allowed her to learn quickly and see the impact Edwards has had on the state’s water community.
“Everyone loves Karen,” said Hartman, who grew up on her family’s irrigated row-crop farm near Parma. “It has been lovely to work with her and take on her ‘baby.’ Karen brings a lot of joy to the job.”
Water is critical to Idaho’s economy for reasons including a mostly arid climate, population growth and the sizable segment of the agricultural sector that relies on irrigation.
IWUA’s 300-plus members include irrigation districts and canal companies, groundwater districts, agribusinesses, public water supply organizations and various businesses and individuals offering products, services and consultation.
The group primarily represented surface-water interests until last year, when it changed its bylaws to include groundwater districts as full general members.
Edwards’ tenure included droughts, water-rights conflicts and resolutions, flood-producing heavy winters, and advances in water measurement and delivery technology.
With the IWUA director frequently out meeting with water users or policymakers, she fielded phone calls, walk-in visits and electronic inquiries while running what was in effect a one-person office.
Edwards was happy to do it.
“One thing I like is being a source of information,” she said. “When people call me, I go the extra mile to direct them where they need to go. I like helping people. A lot of times, they have legal questions, and I refer them.
“A lot of times, they just want someone to talk to, to listen to their story,” Edwards said. “They just need some direction.”
Her first job was in the office of a manufacturer in San Diego, where she attended a business college.
“I had come from a large company, and people didn’t want to admit their mistakes,” Edwards said. “You can’t do that in a one-girl office. This was my second job, and I knew I would like working in a small office.”
She first worked for IWUA through geologist Sherl Chapman’s natural-resources consulting firm that had the association as a client; initially about 60% of her work was for IWUA, which became her full-time employer in mid-2000.
Norm Semanko, executive director and general counsel from 2000 to 2017, admires Edwards.
“Karen is dedicated, hardworking and never met a person that didn’t end up being her friend,” said Semanko, who practices water and environmental law in Boise. “She was the definition of service for water users for the entire time she worked for the organization.
“We’re sad to see her go, but it’s a retirement well deserved after 43 1/2 years,” he said.
Paul Arrington said that when succeeded Semanko in 2017, “I quickly realized how this association is kept together because of Karen — not Sherl or Norm or me, but Karen. She is the one everyone wants to see when they come to the convention. She is the one they want to share a hug and a laugh with.”
Arrington said that from Edwards he learned how much goes into running an association. Edwards demonstrated the importance of paying attention to details and “showing you care not only for each and every member, but also each person you run into.”
This year’s IWUA convention slate includes a retirement reception for Edwards from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan 21 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise. She will be inducted into the Idaho Water User Hall of Fame at the IWUA awards luncheon Jan. 23.
As for her successor, “we pretty much knew Kathryn was the one,” Edwards said of Hartman, who was selected from nearly 280 candidates.
Hartman will emphasize constituent and public outreach, including through social media.
She attended Kansas State University and graduated from the University of Idaho in agricultural science, communications and leadership. She worked for an environment-focused communication firm in Boise, and then for Northwest Farm Credit Services in Nampa.
IWUA “has a good reputation in the state,” Hartman said. “And it was appealing that Karen worked here for a long time. People are supportive of this role.”