IMPERIAL VALLEY — Who owns the water from the Colorado River that comes into the Imperial Valley?
It’s a question that divided the Imperial Irrigation District Division 2 runoff candidates in a forum hosted by the San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Borderlands Institute on Sept 26.
Candidates Ryan Childers and J.B. Hamby are in a Nov. 3 runoff to succeed current Division 2 IID Director Bruce Kuhn, who lost his re-election bid during the March primary.
Childers spoke of his experience as a reason to elect him while fellow challenger Hamby zeroed in on his preparation and having traveled along the Colorado River to discover the issues facing the region.
Each touted their beliefs in the opening remarks during the forum.
“The IID is one of this community’s most important institutions,” Childers said. “The issues they face are complex and they are of great importance to all of us. That’s why I think it’s important that we elect leaders that have the experience and vision to lead the IID and move it forward.
“I believe I bring that experience and vision to this election. I believe that my experience as a lawyer and my education as an accountant will help me be a more effective IID board member, and I believe that my 12 years as a school board member, working with other board members in a collaborative way and making progress on a variety of important issues to our community, make me uniquely qualified to serve in this capacity as an IID board member.
“Beyond that, I am a parent of two children, William and Abigail, who are now 12 and 9 years old,” Childers added. “I have a vested interest in seeing that there is opportunity for them to return to here in our community. Without the economic development that the IID can help spur, without a secure water resource, without the protection of our water rights, without a clean environment, without the Salton Sea that isn’t emitting 8,000 tons of dust into the air as it did this last year and it’s expected to go to 20,000 tons in the next four years, then this is not going to be the type of place our young people are going to want to return to.
“But I believe if we have the right leadership on the IID board we can make a difference on these important issues, but it’s going to take somebody with the right experience, the right vision, and the ability to collaborate with the other four board members to get important things done,” Childers said.
Hamby trumpeted his knowledge of the issues in his opening remarks.
“Imperial Valley is the single largest user on the Colorado River, and the challenges we’re facing on the river are attempts to move water from primarily rural communities to continued sprawling growth in other areas across the Colorado River basin, effectively destroying opportunities and quality of life across the river for these communities,” Hamby said. “It’s important that we have a long-term vision there about keeping our water in our Valley and cooperating with others in those situations.
“… On issues of power, now we’re in the coronavirus pandemic, and just for context both San Diego County Water Authority and Coachella Valley Water District, some of our neighboring districts, have either had proposed rate increases that they’ve scaled back or they’ve significantly reduced their budgets through efficiencies so they’re not taking out a credit card on the backs of ratepayers and so we’re protecting everybody, especially their wallets, in a time of this pandemic when they can’t afford higher power bills.
“And then on the Salton Sea and New River issues, these are long emergencies we’ve experienced, 80 years in the case of the New River and 17 years in the case of the Salton Sea,” Hamby said. “We have federal protections when it comes to clean water across the country and clean air as well, and those are both being violated in Imperial Valley. … What’s in the New River today ends up in our lungs tomorrow as the sea declines, recedes and all that toxic dust gets blown into the air and lungs like mine for those who have asthma. It’s going to create a horrific situation that makes Imperial Valley a less desirable place with a lessened quality of life. And everything is downstream of water in Imperial Valley. That’s why I’m running for IID, to keep our water here, because at the end of the day, water is life.”
When asked who owns the Colorado River water in the Valley, the two were divided.
“IID holds the water right in trust for the users within its service area, so that includes all of us,” Childers said.
Hamby disagreed, saying, “No one really owns it. We all know that it’s a public resource so it’s a resource for use in Imperial Valley. We should not be selling it to other places because that’s been so devastating to Imperial Valley, most specifically at the Salton Sea. …
“IID has a contract,” he added. “Those who need it in Imperial Valley have a right to service. That’s simply the way it works.”
Childers, in his next response, rebutted Hamby’s response.
“If no one owns it, what’s to stop someone from coming in and taking it,” Childers said.
Hamby doubled down on his response about not selling water to other users outside of the Imperial Valley. The full forum can be viewed on YouTube.