For nearly 30 years, Jim Shults has been on call as superintendent of the Woodbridge Irrigation District. He not only worked with his hands in the bitter cold and sweltering heat on pumps and pipelines, he also conducted cost analysis on potential projects and determined the other workers' schedules. But after 28 years with the district, Shults officially called it a career Friday.
The 70-year-old was honored at a party at Woodbridge Crossing as coworkers, friends and associates wished him a happy retirement. The Bay Area native coordinated projects such as replacing Woodbridge's old board dam with a state-of-the-art hydraulic dam and fish ladder. He was integral in helping covert parts of the district's system to drip irrigation. He also played a significant role in the Nelson Pipeline project and the replacement of Beaver Siphon.
"It's been a fun and exciting job," Shults said between handshakes and smiles. "It helps when you enjoy what you do."
Jim Burgess is a former hydrologist for East Bay Municipal Utilities District and said Shults is a master of balancing the needs of those the district serves. Since the district's system is operated by gravity, water is constantly flowing from March until November. Shults was second to none when it came to making sure measurements were accurate and accounting for the change in levels when growers would temporarily turn off their pumps, he said.
"His job was like managing a river," he said.
The humble Shults was quick to deflect compliments toward those he worked with. He paid tribute to the staff at the district, as well as the other water agencies and fisheries he shared responsibilities with over the years.
"It takes a major interaction from everyone to keep things flowing," he said.
One of Shults' proudest achievements was assisting with the construction of the Woodbridge Dam. Before 2005, Woodbridge workers would use hundreds of wooden flash boards to raise Lodi Lake's elevation to prevent the Mokelumne River from flooding. The boards were a staple for 103 years to get water to flow downhill and move it through district pipelines. Now the system is automated and makes monitoring levels much easier.
Shults previously worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and served on irrigation districts in Idaho and the Bay Area before coming to WID in 1982. The district features 100 miles of canals and laterals, and its borders stretch from Northwest Lodi near Thornton to Northeast Stockton.
The manager of the district, who worked with Shults for 20 years, said he will be missed and hasn't started the search to find a new superintendent.
"You don't replace someone like him," said Andy Christensen, manager of WID. "His experience isn't something anyone else has."
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.