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Election results: Imperial Irrigation District board candidates vie for two open seats

The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) logo The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 11/7/2020 Mark Olalde, Palm Springs Desert Sun
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The Imperial Irrigation District recently saw its power cemented, as the state court system declared it the rightful holder of huge water rights on the Colorado River. Now, candidates are facing off for two open seats on its five-member board of directors.

In addition to being the single largest water user on the river, the district delivers electricity to Imperial Valley and the eastern half of the Coachella Valley. Its board, which is elected only by its water ratepayers, continues to fend off attempts to add members from Riverside County.

Attorney Ryan Childers and 24-year-old JB Hamby, both fourth-generation Imperial Valley residents, are competing to represent Division 2, which includes Heber and parts of El Centro. Long-time Director Bruce Kuhn, known for casting the deciding vote to approve the controversial Quantification Settlement Agreement in 2003, will not retain the seat.

a sign on the side of a building: Imperial Irrigation District crews are responding to a power outage affecting about 800 customers in Indio on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. © Submitted photo Imperial Irrigation District crews are responding to a power outage affecting about 800 customers in Indio on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

With 30% of the 16,843 eligible ballots counted and 46 of 46 precincts reporting, Hamby was comfortably holding onto a lead Friday with 3,090 votes (63%)  over Childers' 1,767 votes (36%).

The Imperial County Registrar of Voters Office issued updated results Friday. So far, officials have counted 25,363 votes cast in the county.

The next results update will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday.

LIVE: Election results from California and Riverside County

Candidate Q&A: IID board candidates outline what they would prioritize, if elected.

Abatti: The California Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to IID's water rights.

Hamby ran a campaign based on aggressively protecting the valley's water rights, targeting fears that San Diego is trying to take additional water from the valley. He reiterated this stance to The Desert Sun in the lead-up to election day.

"There is a concerted effort across the Colorado River Basin to move water from rural and marginalized communities, including our own, drying them up to build thirsty, sprawling growth in big cities," Hamby said. "Imperial Valley has the largest water right and the most to lose on the Colorado River."

Childers also opposes giving board seats to constituents outside the Imperial Valley and spoke at length about protecting local claims to water. 

"I have a vested interest in fighting for our Valley and working to address the issues that matter most," he wrote on his website. "Issues like preserving and protecting our water rights, keeping power rates affordable, restoring the Salton Sea and demanding action on the New River."

To the south, a tight race continued. 

With about 29% of the 17,670 eligible ballots counted and 27 of 27 precincts reporting in early results, Director Erik Ortega, as of Friday, had garnered 2,278 votes (49%) to close in on community organizer Javier Gonzalez, who leads with 2,393 votes (50%) in the race for the Division 4 seat that represents much of Calexico and east and west along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Only 115 votes separated the two, with 4,950 cast, according to Friday night returns; 20 votes separated them the day before.

"If reelected, my goals are to keep energy rates low, protect the Imperial Valley’s water rights and to put the district’s resources to work for all of our water users and energy ratepayers," Ortega told The Desert Sun in the lead-up to the election.

In his campaign, Gonzalez zeroed in on the need to clean up and rebuild IID infrastructure, ranging from streetlights in Calexico to irrigation canals. He also focused on rehabilitating the New River to decrease the amount of pollution flowing through IID's service area and into the Salton Sea.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Erik Ortega, Imperial Irrigation District board president, speaks in September 2019 during the commissioning of the IID Citizens community solar project north of Calipatria. © Imperial Irrigation District courtesy Erik Ortega, Imperial Irrigation District board president, speaks in September 2019 during the commissioning of the IID Citizens community solar project north of Calipatria.

"The New River will be a top priority," he said. "A wetland as close to the border as possible and more along the river route to the Salton Sea will be our focus."

Both candidates for each race stressed the importance of addressing the issue of the Salton Sea shrinking and leaving behind an exposed playa full of toxic dust that is becoming airborne and degrading public health. In addition to the lake, the directors, once seated, will have their hands full with ongoing litigation, including against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Editor's note: This story will be updated as results are released. 

Mark Olalde covers the environment for The Desert Sun. Get in touch at molalde@gannett.com, and follow him on Twitter at @MarkOlalde.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Election results: Imperial Irrigation District board candidates vie for two open seats

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