David Canez moderated the Division 2 Imperial Irrigation District virtual forum between John Brooks (JB) Hamby and Ryan Childers Thursday, October 1. Questions covered water, power, and the Salton Sea environmental issues.
Hamby and Childers fundamentally agreed on stopping future water transfers and not raising electrical rates, however, the means for accomplishing those goals differed.
Hamby opened saying his top priority was water, stopping future rural-to-urban water transfers, protecting the Valley’s water, and not marketing the water to monetize urban cities. Hamby also promoted his idea that a two-thirds public vote was needed before any other water left the Valley.
Childers opened by showcasing his experience as an accountant and attorney, his previous 12 years of serving on El Centro school boards, and being born, raised, and working in IID’s Division 2. He also promised to protect the Valley’s water, keep electrical services low, save the Salton Sea, and using the IID to help promote good paying jobs.
Areas the two strongly disagreed was the San Diego Water District’s request to connect a water aqueduct from the Valley directly to San Diego. As of now, San Diego receives Valley water through the Metropolitan Water District.
Hamby likened the pipe to a straw in the canal to suck more water from the Valley, saying it was an unnecessary replicated canal as San Diego already has one way to receive Colorado River from the Valley.
Childers countered saying San Diego was only asking to study the feasibility of building a pipeline directly from the Valley. He said the study would take 10 years and the then IID board could vote no. Saying yes to the study doesn’t mean the aqueduct would be built or that more water would be leaving the Valley, he said. Childers also suggested a storage system for unused, but allocated water could be negotiated with San Diego in exchange for the aqueduct.
As of now, the IID does not have anywhere to store water, and what isn’t used of its allotment flows to a junior rights’ holder — MWD — for free.
The other area of strong disagreement was electrical substations. Hamby supported the IID’s present stance of charging developers when substations were needed to build housing or business centers.
“The IID’s policy is if developers want to grow, they pay for the infrastructure, including new substations,” Hamby said. “Developers want to socialize the cost and privatize the gain. That is not right. Those who profit, should pay.”
Childers disagreed. “You will put a choke hold on economic development. We have inadequate substations for growth. I’ve seen businesses pull out because they would have to pay $8-12 million for a new substation.”
Childers said he knew of a doctor’s office that didn’t build because the cost was prohibitive, and if the developer did pay for the substation, the others coming later to the development would get the benefit. His answer was to fund infrastructure into the IID budget so the Valley could grow.
“Charging developers for substations was not the IID position of the past,” Childers said. “IID provides power and charges for power to these new developments, telling the developers they have to pay $12 for IID’s substations will kill growth.”
“The choke hold will be on people’s pockets when we hand out $12 million gifts to developers,” Hamby said later. The cost should not be borne by the ratepayers. I promise for four years I will not support a rate increase.”
Childers also agreed to not raise rates and to look in the budget to finance infrastructure and invest in upgrades. He mentioned the large geothermal plant planned to be built on the Salton Sea exposed playa.
“Fourteen hundred acres of exposed playa will be used, that energy will go to the Imperial Valley and to other outside areas, we must have infrastructure. It will reap returns in economic benefit and good paying jobs.”
One area that both were non-committal were the questions on Project Labor Agreements (PLA). IID meetings discussing PLAs have been contentious and filled with speakers from San Diego Union Halls and local contractors. If the IID board continues with looking into and agreeing to having outside jobs under union PLAs, the unions say work would be accountable with training and better wages. Local contractors said cost overruns would be continual and employees would earn less as the union extracts dues and benefits that employees would never see.
Neither candidate took a stand on whether PLAs would be beneficial to the Valley.