Central Arizona Water Conservation District Candidates Discuss Water Shortage, Taxes at EZAZ Forum

The grassroots group EZAZ held a forum featuring the candidates running for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) Board of Directors on Sunday. At least one of the candidates, Republican Legislative District Chair Cory Mishkin, said the coming water shortage was manageable, and called out California for causing problems. A couple of the candidates expressed concern that property taxes are being used to subsidize developers and municipalities.

Jeff Caldwell, EZAZ’s secretary and volunteer coordinator, asked each candidate five questions, as well as allowing them to give opening and closing statements. The candidates were not provided the questions in advance.

Ylenia Aguilar said she is a school board member and is employed with a water company that works with tribal communities. Alexandra Arboleda, a water resources attorney, has served on the board since 2016, where she’s served in several leadership positions. Lisa Bullington is a real estate attorney who has worked in water law when working on new projects.

Alan Dulaney is trained as a hydrogeologist and served 12 years as the water policy administrator for the City of Peoria and nine years at the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Mishkin said he grew up on a cattle feedlot and cotton farm and has been involved in land development. He is a Republican Legislative District Chair and Precinct Committeeman. He has his own business and said it’s important to have people serve on the board who understand it’s “your money, not the government’s money.”

Amanda Monize described herself as a “proud conservative in education.” She wants to promote an “Arizona-first solution,” since “the time to negotiate with other states has passed.” Donovan Neese runs an irrigation district, working with farmers to get water and power to them, and has civil engineering and business degrees.

Karen Peters said she has worked in the water industry for over 30 years, practicing as a water lawyer. Barbara Seago is an electrical engineer who is working as a software engineer, and said her main reason for running is she feels that taxpayers aren’t receiving adequate representation on the board, since money is going to “special interest groups.”

Caldwell first asked the candidates about the $1 billion debt still owed the federal government for building the Central Arizona Project. He said property taxes are currently set at the maximum allowed amount to make payments on that debt, and wanted to know if that was the correct amount.

The candidates mostly agreed, stating that it’s important to pay the debt back. However, Seago and Monize expressed their concern that the rate might be too high due to subsidies for developers and municipalities.

The second question addressed the federal government’s instruction to Arizona to cut back on water usage, and asked how the board would handle this. Most of the candidates said cities have already started taking steps to deal with this, such as education, recycling wastewater, and conservation.

Mishkin had the strongest response. He said people don’t understand that “next year our agricultural community is going to be cut 100 percent of their water allocation from the Colorado River in central Arizona.” He said the issue isn’t about saving water. He cited how the City of Peoria is recycling almost 100 percent of its wastewater, and the City of Scottsdale sends experts to people’s homes to figure out how to help them conserve better.

Seago said subsidizing municipalities hides the true cost of the water from consumers, a practice she thinks should be discontinued, as transparency will make people aware of the real cost and influence their use.

The third question asked of the candidates was what kind of a vote would cause them to recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest. The candidates generally agreed that they would follow the law and recuse themselves when appropriate, such as if they stood to financially gain.

The fourth question asked of the candidates was whether the large amount of energy used by CAP — the largest user of energy in the state — was justified, and what they believe are solutions for sustainable energy use.

The candidates generally agreed the level used was justified, since it takes a lot of energy to push water upward. Mishkin praised the board for diversifying CAPCW’s energy holdings on the futures market, selling power to California and making millions off the state during its rolling blackouts. Monize said that while CAPCW has done well in the past, worsening conditions may require a need for changes such as nuclear power.

The last question asked of the candidates was what differentiates them from the others. Seago stressed her technical degree and lack of backing by special interest groups. Peters pointed to her lengthy experience in the water industry. Neese also cited lengthy experience. Monize, on the other hand, said it was time for something new instead of just relying on board members with a lot of experience, citing the old phrase, “In Arizona, we do things differently.”

Mishkin declared in his closing statement, “We are not running out of water.” He pointed out that Arizona leads the nation in water conservation and has used less water every year since 1980, currently using the same amount it did in 1957. He said, “I often joke that if politicians didn’t have something to scare you about, then how would they get you vote for them?” He said it was “doable” to solve the water shortage. “I think you need people who will take the fight beyond Arizona’s borders and go pick on our big neighbor to the left, California,” he concluded.

Dulaney emphasized his extensive experience. Bullington stressed her negotiation skills acquired while working as a real estate lawyer. Arboleta said she could “come up with creative solutions.” Aguilar admitted she didn’t have years of experience but expressed her crisis management experience and interest in sustainability and learning.

Additionally, candidates were instructed to ask a question of a fellow candidate. Peters asked Dulaney, “What is the right balance between the use of property taxes and water rights?” Dulaney responded that the property tax rate has been fixed for over a decade. Water rates will change, however, so with fewer units to deliver, the cost will go up, he explained.

Monize asked Peters what she meant when she said she would “rework the economy to combat climate change.” Peters responded, “Climate change is one of the principal reasons we are in the crisis we’re in today.” She said the temperature continues to increase, melting the snowpack prematurely. “It’s about us collectively working to solve those problems,” she responded.

Seago asked Arboleta what the justification was for CAP to subsidize municipalities and developers. Arboleta said it was because CAP wanted to give the cities time to adjust their rates to deal with reduced amounts of available water.

Bullington asked Mishkin what he thought of the federal government’s handling of the water shortage, and what he would do to “fight for Arizona.” Mishkin responded, “Shockingly, the federal government has been asleep at the wheel.” He said federal agencies punted on the problem and left it to the states. He said six of the states around the Colorado Basin including Arizona are ready to do something but California won’t. “They expect us to take a 21 percent cut and they do nothing to account for evaporation in the system,” he asserted. “Whoever’s on this board needs to use it as a soapbox to take to California and arm our congressional delegation so they can fight for our rights and the rest of the Colorado Basin.”

Arboleta asked Neese about the impact of the water shortage on agriculture. Neese said irrigation districts will be “closing their doors” so agricultural areas will be “going back to desert.” He expressed his concern about how the cornfields he drives by had given Arizona food independence.

There are five slots up for election. The Golden Ticket voting guide issued by Maricopa County grassroots Republicans this year recommends four candidates only: Jason Lundgren, Amanda Monize, Donovan Neese, and Barbara Seago.

Shelby Duplessis, Benjamin Graff, Jason Lundgren, Jim Pederson, and Daniel Cirignani Wood were unable to attend the forum.

Founded in 2020 as a project of “Strong Communities Action,” EZAZ.org describes itself as a nonpartisan group focused on helping to inform Arizonans to participate in the political process of the state.

Watch the event:

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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

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