Everyone dreams of the day, but for Mike Rich, district soil scientist with the Cortez Natural Resource Conservation Service, the sweet moment of completing a long successful career has arrived.
Rich will retire this week as district conservationist with the NRCS, his place of toil and triumph since 1984.
The traditional cut-the-cake office ceremony and ribbing from co-workers will take place Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. at the USDA Service Center, 628 W. Fifth St., Cortez.
Friends and colleagues are invited to join the open-house party.
In 30 years, Rich has seen a lot of changes, especially in irrigation techniques and the advent of McPhee Reservoir.
“It used to be earth dams and flood irrigation, and now it is side-rolls and gated pipe,” he said. “It is much more efficient and stable.”
While Rich hasn’t exactly been slaving away in the salt mines, salt was on his mind for much of his career. Beginning in the 1990s, he focused on a federal salinity-control project aimed at reducing salt loads into the Colorado River system.
Flood irrigation leaches salts from the soils, washing it into gullies, streams, and rivers where it accumulates and impairs water used for downstream irrigators. The project helped to fund upgrades for irrigators, especially for customers of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company.
“The underlying Mancos shale in this region has lots of salt, and putting in advanced systems reduces how much is leached out,” Rich explained. “Lower Colorado River users appreciate it because irrigating with salty water damages crops.”
Agriculture in the area benefited from $26 million in irrigation improvements from the project, he said.
Another popular program he is proud to be involved in is the distribution of seasonal high tunnels or hoop houses for indoor gardening. So far, 27 have been set up locally, representing half of installations statewide.
“They help to extend the growing season and help financially,” Rich said.
The free-standing greenhouses cost between $4,000 and $8,000, but the government picks up 75 percent of the tab.
He has witnessed the surge in local agriculture economy since the Dolores Project and McPhee Reservoir was completed in 1987.
“It boosted irrigated land by 30,000 acres, and put us in the top three or five in the state for alfalfa production,” Rich said.
“It’s been a great career, and a real pleasure to work with private landowners and farmers all these years.”
Rich said he plans to raise some sheep, tour the mountains, and of course, go fishing.