Hermiston’s IRZ Engineering & Consulting Celebrates 4 Decades

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Fred Ziari, president of IRZ Engineering & Consulting, discusses the work his company has done in different parts of the world and the firm's 40th anniversary on May 4, 2024 at his company in Hermiston. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

For hydrological engineer Fred Ziari, 40 years as a water systems designer and consultant is barely enough to get your feet wet.

He did take time off from designing and constructing large-scale water and irrigation systems to recognize his business, IRZ Engineering & Consulting, by celebrating its 40th anniversary with a gathering May 7 at at Sno Road Winery in Echo.

“Over 100 people came,” Ziari said. “Some of them were multi-generational clients. We worked with their grandfather, and dad, and now the next generation. It was kind of fun for me to see some of the big veterans of the irrigation industry and manufacturing and so on who were there.”

Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann even declared May 7 as “Fred Ziari Day.”

Drozmann’s proclamation cites Ziari’s development of algorithms and irrigation designs that have saved regional growers millions of dollars and billions of gallons of water per year

IRZ documents water conservation of more than 10 billion gallons and 35 megawatt hours of energy per year. The company’s reach extends into 30 countries around the globe.

The proclamation also highlights Ziari’s philanthropic efforts, such as his nonprofit, Farmers Ending Hunger, which has distributed more than 35 million pounds of food products through Oregon and Washington food banks.

Ziari’s conversation shows he is equally proud of his record of engineering and the gifts he has been able to leave behind due to that same success.

Water is a valuable commodity in the Pacific Northwest, and Ziari has been able to get water to the farmers and developers who depend on it in the most economical ways possible.

IRZ helps develop CDA

One of Ziari’s engineering clients is the Columbia Development Authority in Hermiston. This project spans hundreds of acres and needs infrastructure of all kinds.

“We helped develop the zoning, what kind of industry can be there and in what area,” Ziari said. “We plotted it all. We brought help and discipline to CDA and we are proud to still continue doing that role. … We developed a master plan, which right now is under review from the CDA.”

Ziari said this project requires knowledge of what the demands are from industries and which are to be determined.

“How do you match that with the resources we have, like power?” he said. “We’ve been working with the power companies, and we know they’ll bring in power, the same thing with water, the same thing with communication and roads. As engineer of record, we are making sure they stay on time and on budget.”

CDA Executive Director Greg Smith has been working closely with Ziari and his company.

“First of all, they are absolutely phenomenal,” Smith said of Ziari and his engineers. “Their function is to serve as our engineer of record. … So while I serve as the director of the CDA, IRZ really is the entity I’m relying on to help me with our master plan to determine what should go where.”

Smith said as the engineer of record, Ziari’s firm will be working directly with projects the CDA will be constructing.

“Not only do they have knowledge, but they have tremendous wisdom in their approach that is just as important as intellect,” Smith said.

Smith said the Ziari team displays vision for decades from now.

“With Fred being local, he brings that wisdom,” Smith said. “He also serves as the buffer between myself and other engineers who are looking to work with CDA.”

IRZ roots in Pacific Northwest

Ziari said although his company has worked in 30 nations, the roots are in the Pacific Northwest, and especially in Morrow and Umatilla counties.

“We love it,” Ziari said, “and we continue to stay here.”

While IRZ specializes in water and irrigation projects, the firm’s knowledge and skills go far beyond that primary focus.

“Our roots are in water resource engineering, but because we do massive, $100 million projects, we need to have skills in electrical engineering, structural engineering, civil engineering, hydraulic engineering, surveying, environmental, biological assessment, we do all of that,” Ziari said. “So, it’s not just one thing we do, but a combination of all of that work.”

Ziari said he started out as a solo consultant 40 years ago and now employs about 30 engineers, scientists, technicians, surveyors and people with other skills.

“The majority of work that we do around the world is from 30- to 100,000-acre projects,” he said. “We’ve been very successful in working there.”

But since the pandemic, he said, there’s been some rethinking.

“There is plenty of demand just in Oregon and Washington,” Ziari said. “So we are focusing more on our roots, and we are keeping very busy doing lots of large scale projects just around our homes, which is a blessing. Probably 90% of our work is in our home.”

Taking on a big fight

Ziari appears to have thought long and hard about his very active philanthropic mission.

“The demand for good high quality food has increased, which creates its own momentum,” Ziari said.

About 130 million people are born every year, he said, about third of the population of the United States, and about 20 million to 30 million die a year.

“So you net about 100 million people,” he said, “but we need to find and develop food and shelter for them.”

Agriculture has to play a major role in feeding the world, he said, and irrigated agriculture is the only stable way yo accomplish that.

“As long as you use high efficiency technology, more technological involvement and produce four or five times the capability of a rain-fed system, I think that’s what we need to use,” Ziari said t

And the major source of feeding the 100 million people, he said, has to come from the U.S.

“The need for food has never been higher,” Ziari said, “but at the same time, everybody now feels the pinch for the high price of food. When you multiply that through the globe, you will see food insecurity in the state of Oregon has never been higher. The food insecurity around the world is way, way, out of proportion.”

Ziari is a hydraulic engineer and he said his discipline can help combat food insecurity.

“We try to contribute ways to alleviate hunger, but it’s a real thing,” he said. “Irrigated agriculture, designed efficiently and managed with high efficiency and high productivity is probably the prime solution for hunger relief.”

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