Fluid career ends – Terry Mayfield steps down after 35 years with water district | TheUnion.com

Fluid career ends – Terry Mayfield steps down after 35 years with water district

When Terry Mayfield was growing up in Grass Valley in the 1950s, he was drawn to the waters of Wolf Creek.

It was there in the Hills Flat area that he learned to fish with friends, caught and sold grasshoppers for bait, and picked blackberries to make money for the County Fair.

Little did he know that water would become his livelihood, a fact that will be acknowledged today when the operations manager retires after 35 years with the Nevada Irrigation District.

“From a kid that moved to Grass Valley with one pair of pants and shoes with holes in them, well, this community has given me opportunity,” Mayfield said. “And then to work for NID, I’ve never taken that for granted. It’s like the American dream.”

The dream began 56 years ago in a logging camp outside of Portola in Plumas County. Mayfield moved to Grass Valley in 1952 and soon met one of his best friends and later his counterpart at NID, Les Nicholson, who retired as hydroelectric manager earlier this year.

Their personal and professional lives have been linked ever since they met along the banks of Wolf Creek. They’ve hunted and fished together for years and enjoyed Mayfield’s mischievous humor.

“He was Dennis the Menace as a kid,” Nicholson said. “My mom used to blow a whistle to call me home, and Terry would say, ‘Let’s see how long it takes for her to blow it before she gets mad.'”

Mayfield had a paper route for The Union and remembers warding off bumble bees with rubber bands in the basement of the old Mill Street office in downtown Grass Valley. When he got to Nevada Union High School, he played sports year-round, including football, cross-country, track, basketball, baseball and wrestling.


Mayfield graduated in 1966 and went to work in a gold mine in Alleghany, before a short stint with PG&E. In 1967 he volunteered for the U.S. Army and was eventually sent to Vietnam.

“We had a lot of young men from here who served there,” Mayfield said, including Nicholson.

It was in Vietnam that Mayfield had one of the biggest blows of his life. He was in the same outfit as close friend and fellow Nevada Union graduate Ken Scurr, who won the bronze and silver stars for valor.

“We were about 10 miles apart when he got killed,” Mayfield said. “I ended up marrying his sister.”

He and Susan now have three children: Ken, a paramedic in Alaska; Sarah, a local day care provider: and Wes, a store manager in Colfax.

Mayfield got back from the war the exact same day Nicholson did. Nicholson caught on with NID first, and in 1970, Mayfield hired on as a ditch cleaner.

“When I came, the district was still in its infancy,” Mayfield said. “The budget was less than $3 million. There were about 110 employees and 5,000 customers. Now the budget is $30 million, there’s 170 employees and 24,000 customers.”

NID now has financial stability, but when he started “it was run on a shoestring,” Mayfield said. “The joke was as soon as you got your paycheck you went down to cash it right away.”

In the early ’70s drinking water regulations began to change NID’s direction, Mayfield said.

“The Department of Health Services said we had the worst water in California. We went into a new era with treatment. Now our water quality is some of the best.”

Mayfield worked his way up to the point where he became the hydrographer, measuring how much water the district had at any given time and figuring out when it could be released to meet irrigation, drinking and hydroelectric production demands.

Drought lessons

That was a most enjoyable time in Mayfield’s career but there were rough times as well. Wildfires and then floods in 1986 and 1997 taxed NID’s system and Mayfield’s resolve. But none was bigger than the drought of 1976 and ”77.

“I had saved up all my vacation time to build a house,” but when the drought hit, “all vacations were off,” as Mayfield and others in the district scrambled to make things work. That drought and another lack of precipitation from 1987 to 1992 taught Mayfield and NID lessons.

“We made all our deliveries,” despite the lack of supply, Mayfield said. “Prior to that we were a power system and we started running it like a water consumptive system.”

Frustrations have been few but Mayfield said mounting regulations have made things difficult at times.

More than 40 regulatory agencies scrutinize PG&E and the district’s power dams are inspected by two entities, the state’s Division of Dam Safety and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Construction projects also take longer because of environmental concerns and land splits, Mayfield said.

Thirty years ago NID could lay pipe through a 40-acre parcel of land and the owner would barely flinch, Mayfield said. But those larger parcels have been split through the years and now the amount of landowners and easements that have to be dealt with slow the process.

“I’m not critical of the process,” Mayfield said. “That’s just some of the issues we get.”

Mayfield said future issues include shoring up NID’s facilities that he helped plan and build the past 35 years.

“We’ve had some pretty good growth,” Mayfield said. “And there’s four big projects proposed for the city,” of Grass Valley. “That will tax the facilities that are at or near capacity.”

Mayfield is also looking forward to the proposed improvements for the place where it started for him, Wolf Creek.

“That’s a great thing,” he said. “When the freeway was constructed, it wasn’t considered. Some improvements over time will make (the creek) a nice contribution to the city.”

NID’s changing of the guard

Over less than three years, six of the Nevada Irrigation District’s 10 top managers have left or plan to leave, taking with them a total of 155 years of experience. They are:

– General Manager Jim Chatigny retired in September 2002, after 23 years with the district. He was replaced by Ron Nelson.

– Assistant General Manager Ben Barretta plans to retire Dec. 31 after 30 years with the district. A search is on for his replacement.

– Operations Manager Terry Mayfield retires today after 35 years with the district. His replacement is Don Wight.

– Hydroelectric Manager Les Nicholson retired in January after 34 years with the district. Nelson is the acting hydro manager, and the position is under assessment.

– Maintenance Manager Robin Lantz plans to retire next May after 15 years with NID.

– Board Secretary Carol Gates retired in February after 18 years with NID. Her replacement is Lisa Francis Tassone.

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