ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Commission appointed three members to the Washington County Water Conservancy District Board of Trustees Tuesday.
The decision was a disappointment to members of local conservation group hoping to have a voice on the board.
The appointments of Ivins Mayor Chris Hart, Hurricane City Councilman Kevin Tervort and long-time board member Howard Bracken come amidst increasing controversy and opposition to the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.
The pipeline would stretch nearly 140 miles and bring up to 86,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Washington and Kane counties at a cost of at least $1.4 billion. Some estimates put the cost much higher.
“There were several highly qualified applicants who are versed in the role that water conservation can have and in the issues with the Lake Powell Pipeline,” Conserve Southwest Utah President Tom Butine said.
“These applicants were dismissed with a new concept from our county commissioners: the board should be composed of elected officials holding offices unrelated to water, with no special technical experience.”
The concept does little to ensure good decisions or to address the water district’s accountability to taxpayers, Butine said.
“The appointments perpetuate the lack of openness in the water district’s management and oversight,” he said.
Commission appointments to the water board have moved away from being private citizens, Commissioner Alan Gardner said at Tuesday’s commission meeting, and towards having more elected officials on the board.
Having elected officials on the board comes closer to an elected representative board while still maintaining the continuity of a board that is tasked with long-term water planning needs, Commissioner Victor Iverson said in an earlier interview.
The real purpose of the water board is to look at water development and provide water and infrastructure to the communities, Iverson said when asked why the commission did not appoint a member of the local conservation community to the water district board.
“The debate needs to be less political and less charged,” he said. The cities and municipalities in the county are the real customers of the water, he said.
“We feel the citizens can have their voice by having their city – more city representatives on the board,” Iverson said.
When asked about appointing someone to the water district board who is opposed to the Lake Powell Pipeline, Iverson said he doesn’t believe the board should be politicized.
“It really should be focused on water development,” he said.
“Having said that, I do think the water district needs to continue to have a continued and robust conversation with all the citizens in the community.”
“I’m just not sure that debate needs to take place right inside the boardroom itself when you’re talking about how to develop water.”
The commission had a number of qualified applications, commission administrator/deputy clerk Nicole Felshaw said, and each applicant was given a telephone interview.
The commission wanted geographic diversity on the board, Washington County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom said.
Currently, the seven-member board consists of Renstrom, Ed Bowler, St. George City Mayor Jon Pike, Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson, Howard Bracken, former Hurricane City Mayor Thomas Hirschi and Jim Ence.
Former Hurricane Mayor Thomas Hirschi is leaving the board, and so Tervort will represent the Hurricane area, Renstrom said. Hart will replace outgoing board member Jim Ence, who is from the Santa Clara/Ivins area.
Bracken has been on the board since 2002 and so adds continuity to the water board; he represents the farming community and the Enterprise area, Renstrom said.
“That’s why these names came up specifically,” Renstrom said.
“I was amazed at the number of people wanting to serve. I was amazed at the quality of individuals,” Renstrom said. “We’ve had a ton of interest on this and it’s neat to see that the community was so involved in this.”
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