If you care about how Arizona handles a water shortage, don’t overlook this race

We spend a lot of time thinking about our votes in races at the top of the ballot. But there’s a race further down that you don’t want to overlook.

Not if you care about the water we depend on to live in a desert.

That would be the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, where 14 candidates (no, that’s not a typo) are vying for five seats.

Why is CAWCD so important?

The 15-member CAWCD board sets policies for the Central Arizona Project, which transports Colorado River water from Lake Mead to cities and farms in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties.

Yes, that Lake Mead, the one that supplies about 40 percent of Arizona’s drinking water and that could be facing its first shortage as soon as 2020.

The non-partisan board also oversees the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, which finds water to help users comply with groundwater rules that require them to demonstrate a 100-year assured water supply.

Both roles make CAWCD a key player in the state’s water-planning efforts – particularly because the pools of water that will be cut first are delivered to farmers and cities via CAP’s canals.

What should I look for in candidates?

Serving on this board will be no easy task.

If the recent spat between CAWCD and the Arizona Department of Water Resources is any indication, the board needs people who not only have deep water knowledge but a willingness to listen and compromise. Because their work is only going to get more difficult over the next six years, the length of the winning candidates’ terms.

We know, for example, that the cost to deliver CAP water will increase once shortages hit – more so if Arizona joins a three-state drought-contingency plan to help keep water levels at Lake Mead from crashing. That’s because there will be fewer users over which to spread the fixed costs of delivering water.

What’s more, people are beginning to question the groundwater replenishment district’s mission, particularly after a contentious effort to acquire land in Mohave County for its senior water rights.

How do I choose between 14 people?

Because of all that’s at stake, this is obviously not a race to employ the eeny-meeny method of voting. Picking people at random or based on their last name simply won’t work.

The good news is most candidates seem to understand the challenges our water supply is now facing. There is wide support for passing a drought-contingency plan, and many tout the need for greater leadership and better long-term planning.

But how do you make sense of 14 candidates?

There are three incumbents:

There are 11 challengers, though you can probably weed three out right away. Neither Frank Archer, April Pinger nor Ronald Sereny have shared information about themselves or their positions on key issues, which means they are probably not serious candidates.

As for the rest:

Reach Allhands at joanna.allhands@arizonarepublic.com.

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