BY: Warren Tenney

2018's Least Known Election Is One of The Most Important

Published Oct 01, 2018

Various races are competing for your attention on the ballot this election season.  You know the high-profile races for Governor, the U.S. Congress and the State Legislature. Yet, near the bottom of your ballot is one of the most important races – one that will directly impact you and your water.  It is the election of five new members of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board of Directors.  If you are wondering what that is, you are not alone. 

The Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) is the official legal name for the organization that operates the Central Arizona Project (CAP), the 336-mile canal that delivers Colorado River water from Lake Havasu to Phoenix and Tucson. The CAWCD Board of Directors is responsible for operating and maintaining the more than 30-year-old CAP canal. Board members also set wholesale water rates charged to its customers (including Valley cities), determine the property taxes you pay to finance the CAP system, and establish policies that impact Colorado River water for Central Arizona.

Valley cities have contracts for CAP to deliver their Colorado River water.   Maricopa cities provide water to more than 84 percent of Maricopa’s electorate.  CAWCD and the cities receiving Colorado River water will be facing important issues over the six-year term of the candidates you are electing.  It will be critical that we work together for solutions that ultimately ensure you have secure, safe water at a reasonable price. 

The CAWCD Board consists of 15-members with ten elected from Maricopa County, four elected from Pima County, and one from Pinal County.  This year, Maricopa County voters will elect five of the Board positions. You are electing them to a six-year term, the same as for U.S. Senators. It’s not a high-profile race, so you may have to do a little more homework on the candidates but it is worth taking the time. 

The CAWCD has the authority to set two property taxes for Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. For a Maricopa County home assessed at $250,000, these taxes amount to roughly $35 a year. Tax revenue is used primarily to repay the Federal government for constructing the CAP canal, operation and maintenance of the CAP system, and storage of Colorado River water for times of shortage. This is a nominal amount for the wise, long-term effort to keep our water future secure.  

The CAWCD Board also sets the rates that utilities pay for Colorado River water delivered to utilities through the CAP.  Those costs are eventually passed on to you, the utility customer.  

During the next six years, many critical issues will face the CAWCD Board.  Here are some of those issues and why you should be interested in who is elected. 

1. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior could declare an official shortage of Colorado River water as soon as 2020.  A shortage would initially result in less Colorado River water delivered to CAP’s agricultural customers. Municipalities would still receive their full allocation of CAP water under an initial shortage declaration, but it will cost more. While less water would be delivered during a shortage, fixed costs to operate and maintain the CAP system will not decrease. Therefore, cities must pay more to cover those fixed costs. 

2.  CAP will need to work closely with the Arizona Department of Water Resources to protect Arizona’s interests with increasing pressure from a Colorado River shortage declaration.

3. It takes a lot of energy to move and lift Colorado River water uphill.  CAP will need to continue to build and manage its energy portfolio with the scheduled closing of the Navajo Generating Station in 2019.  Ninety percent of CAP’s power has come from the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-powered plant located on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Arizona. 

4. CAP must determine how to recover Colorado River water stored in underground aquifers by the Arizona Water Banking Authority .  If shortages do become more serious, municipalities will need that stored water. Decisions made by the CAWCD Board of Directors will directly impact the cost of recovering this water. 

5.  CAP rates are based on the cost of service meaning that they are directly linked to the cost of operating and maintaining the canal.  As the CAP’s infrastructure continues to age, these costs are likely to continue to increase.

The CAWCD Board is a voluntary non-paid, non-partisan position.  It truly is public service and it remains important not to mix partisan politics into water.  So, do a little research.  Talk to water professionals you may know. Search online to find out more about the candidates and who and what groups are endorsing them. Make a well-educated selection.  Above all, please do not just randomly vote or pick names that sound good. Share what you have learned with family, friends, and co-workers so they can also understand the importance of the CAP election.

The Board of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District will be making a big imprint on your future and Arizona’s.  It is important to have Board members who are committed to the wise management of the CAP system to ensure Arizona has a strong water future.  This means having Board members who are active and engaged in all the issues facing CAWCD. 

Here are the fourteen candidates who are running for the CAWCD Board with a link for those who have a campaign website.  Kudos to the candidates for running and for understanding the importance of CAP water to Maricopa County and the rest of Arizona.   

Photo: Central Arizona Project

Warren Tenney was elected twice to serve as a member of the CAWCD Board from Pima County. He served as Vice-President of the Board, Chairman of the Board's Finance, Audit & Power Committee, and Chairman of the Public Policy Commitee. He resigned his board position in January 2016 to become Arizona Municipal Water User Association's executive director.

For 49 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit .