In his role as a drain inspector for the Ottawa County Water Resources Commissioner, Chris Machiela oversees the inspection and maintenance of drains and storm sewers throughout the county, including those crisscrossing and running adjacent to farmers’ fields.
A Farm Bureau member in neighboring Allegan County, Machiela’s day job provides him a front-row seat and firsthand knowledge of the important work done by the water resource commissioner — more commonly known as drain commissioner.
Drain commissioners are tasked with keeping water flowing, and often find themselves helping settle disputes between homeowners. To that end Machiela relies heavily on the Michigan Drain Code, and spends much of his day working with farmers and other landowners.
He also spends a lot of time explaining to people how water flows, what it means to have a high water table, and the implications of high water levels in the Great Lakes. Water is backing up more than in the recent past, and some sandy areas that haven’t traditionally had problems are now experiencing problems because the subsurface is so saturated there isn’t anywhere for water to go.
Asked what he enjoys about the work, Machiela noted the ability to solve problems and working with a variety of people throughout the community. Farmers, he said, are often easy to work with because they understand drainage better than most people.
“I enjoy helping to explain to non-farmers why farmers do what they do, and how drains work the way they do,” Machiela said. “It’s good to see when it all comes together. I enjoy helping people.”
Because of their advanced understanding of drainage issues, the importance of functional drainage systems to their livelihood, and the broad implications of drain-commission decision-making on agriculture, Machiela encourages — and embodies — the importance of farmer involvement in this vital component of county-level government.
“Farmers tend to be ‘more we and less me’ as a whole,” he said, citing another beneficial quality they bring to the table.
Down the road he’s hoping for an opportunity to put his experience to work by vying for the drain commissioner job in Allegan County, where he raises cattle, hay and other crops.
“I support our current drain commissioner in Allegan County, Denise Medemar,” he said, “but if her position opened up, I’d definitely consider throwing my hat in the ring.”
Even if direct involvement in drain-commission work is beyond a farmer’s comfort level, they should still assert their voice when it comes to vetting and choosing drain-commission candidates, ideally through Farm Bureau’s candidate evaluation process.
Machiela credits his involvement in Farm Bureau for helping him become a better communicator, particularly in his professional life. The organization has also given him a sounding board of like-minded individuals that’ve helped him along his journey.
He’s attended both the Lansing and Washington Legislative Seminars, and last year took part in MFB’s Academy for Political Leadership.
“Farm Bureau has been very helpful in my role with the water resources commissioner,” Machiela said. “The county Farm Bureau has been very willing to work with me and help in a variety of ways.”
Local government positions examined in this series (and more coming soon):