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Nevada Irrigation District board candidates talk finances, water supply at forum

The division was clear between the candidates for two Nevada Irrigation District board seats up for election during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

On one side, W, Scott Miller and Rich Johansen touted the district’s financial security and the need for the Centennial Reservoir project, vying for the Division 3 and 5 seats, respectively, against opponents Karen Hull and John Norton.

Hull, who said at Monday’s forum that she’s has been a customer of the water district for 15 years, told the audience of more than 100 on Zoom and Facebook Live that she was “deeply troubled” by NID’s projected budget deficits. She said her opponent, Miller, has a “spend, spend, spend” strategy that’s unsustainable, adding, “This situation cannot continue.”



Miller fired back at Hull several times during the forum, calling the “professor” naive and arguing the district is in good financial shape. The incumbent said he has spent 20 years on the board keeping local water local.

Both Miller and Johansen hammered the concept of needing the Centennial Dam to protect NID’s water rights.



Miller told the audience the biggest challenge faced by the water district in years to come will be climate change, adding, “We literally have lost half the snowpack most years, the equivalent of all of Rollins’ functional capacity. … The solution is to complete Centennial Reservoir, that will secure our water future.”

Johansen said he has always been in favor of increasing storage, and said the water projection report released in August “cemented” the fact that the district needs to increase its storage. Johansen said Centennial remains a viable project and warned, “If we do not put it in, someone else will.”

Johansen and Norton are running for a seat being vacated by Division 5 Director Nick Wilcox, who isn’t seeking reelection.

Norton and Hull, however, said that while dams remain one option, there are too many unanswered questions for them to support the Centennial project.

The dam has been promoted without knowing the essential facts, Norton said, calling it a billion-dollar “budget-buster” for which the district has been spending and depleting reserves, and putting water users at risk.

“The issue we’re trying to grapple with is, how do we assure affordable water long term?” Hull said, saying the district has other options it needs to explore. Hull said an adequate analysis of supply and demand needs to be done and noted the state had not yet granted approval for the project.

ISSUES

Both Hull and Norton brought up issues with the water planning projections put out by HDR, the consultants hired by NID.

“I find them lacking in some areas,” Norton said. “The demand report shows 1% per year growth .. I don’t know where they got that number, it seems ridiculously large.”

Norton also highlighted what he said were assumptions without foundation, and inconsistencies between the demand and supply reports.

The reports serve as the foundation for all the conclusions that can be made about Centennial, Hull said.

“It’s absolutely essential we have confidence in (those) conclusions,” she said, adding she has questions about the accuracy of the demand projections. “We as a community have to have absolute certainty that it does not overstate (demand) and create a fear factor where none needs to exist.”

Johansen defended the work of HDR, calling them a highly respected research firm.

“They do not paint a very good picture for us,” he said, warning of a future without sufficient water for non-essential customers.

The cost of the Centennial project also was in contention, with Norton and Hull citing a $1 billion price tag, factoring in debt financing, and Miller and Johansen putting the bill at closer to $500 millionthanks to low interest rates.

“The likelihood of getting external funding is close to nil,” Hull said.

Norton said the district’s finances are its biggest weakness, arguing for the hiring of a new general manager with strong fiscal management skills. He also advocated for a renewed focus on maintaining critical infrastructure and on renegotiating existing debt.

Johansen said that while NID is an expensive district to manage, it also had “tremendous assets,” adding, “Financially, I think we will be fine.” Miller agreed, pointing out that the district’s auditors just upgraded its rating.

Hull agreed with Norton, saying it is imperative to invest in infrastructure with a comprehensive plan that includes a look at the full breadth of all NID projects.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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