Thursday, September 07, 2006

Proposed Changes to Water Conservancy Districts

Water Conservancy Districts are given broad powers to implement their varied purposes. And, like most special districts in Utah, water conservancy districts can levy taxes. But they’re different from all other special districts (like school boards) because their board members are appointed by county commissioners, not elected by the voting public.

The appointment of conservancy boards raises all sorts of questions that might make for a lively discussion in some political-science classes. For example, should any non-elected body have the right to collect taxes? I say no, they should not.

Water use in Utah has changed as the state has evolved. In the early days, farming and ranching was a primary use for water. So, the majority of early water rights were for these uses. As the population of cities increased, more water rights were appropriated for municipal use. And now, as our cities continue to grow, Water Conservancy Districts are more important than ever, as they watch out for our water resources for current and future generations.

However, water conservancy and management is too important to the community to have a majority on the board just representing one or two special interests. Large private water holders (as most agricultural users are) on the water conservancy district boards often represent a financial conflict of interest. Additionally, the power of the county commissioners to continue to appoint the same people to water boards term after term may also be questioned as a conflict of interest, as some commissioners hold their seats for decades and their influence over who is selected to board positions may not always be in the best interest of everyone else.

Let’s Change the Law
To ensure that Water Conservancy Districts are working on behalf of the best interests of the citizens of our state, I propose that we make the process more democratic by changing Utah State Law so that Water Conservancy District board members are elected in non-partisan races, instead of being appointed. I also agree with a recent Spectrum Editorial Board opinion that Water Conservancy Board members should be subject to term limits.

Changing the way Water Board members are chosen would enable ordinary citizens to take part in the democratic process and provide opportunities for more people to be involved in important community decisions.

Some say that changing Utah code to allow for elected water board members would be difficult, and that doing so would affect too many water conservancy districts throughout the state of Utah. But I believe change is good. Without change, we are stuck with old antiquated laws that don't serve people and don't account for our growing and diverse communities. As Southwestern Utah continues to grow, it is important that we all work together - elected officials and constituents - to find common ground and equally beneficial solutions. When special boards are accountable only to county commissioners and other elected officials, it leaves the public out of the process and can lead to back room deals that only benefit a select few.

I believe in a representative democracy. When state goals are pursued through un-elected boards and commissions, government is less accountable to the people it is sworn to protect.


At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am encouraged that you are looking for some checks and balances with water conservancies. Currently, we have graft and corruption within our current setup in Iron County. Our water board has benefitted a County Commissioner and two of it's board members. This is very frightening! HELP US PLEASE!


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