IPFS Becky Fenger

More About: Property Rights

Water boarding

"Whiskey's for drinking; water's for
fighting about." ~ Mark Twain

If you want to win a bar bet, just ask if anyone knows what the CAWCD is and does. As important as water is here in the desert, very few folks are familiar with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District or its Board of Directors.

The Central Arizona Project Canal was built by the Bureau of Reclamation. When it was completed, it was turned over to the state of Arizona. The CAWCD was set up about 25 to 30 years ago to run the CAP Canal.

And what an operation it is. The Canal is probably the best-run water delivery system in the world. It's also one of the longest single-entity systems, and delivers half of Arizona's share of the Colorado River water each year.

Water is pumped up 800 feet through the Buckskin Mountains at Lake Havasu near Page and then is dropped down and gravity flow takes it to the next of 15 pump stations along the way. The Canal is 336 miles long and uses a lot of electricity to pump all that water uphill 3,000 feet. The CAP is the largest single electric user in the state of Arizona, which is no small potatoes.

The water belongs to the state of Arizona. The CAWCD does not own the water. The district charges for delivering the water. The 15-member Board is also mandated to recharge the "stored" water underground in the event of a drought. That is all the Board is supposed to do.

There are no private parts to the CAWCD whatsoever, yet it is called a quasi-governmental entity. This designation always makes me nervous, as it seems to be a moniker that lends itself to needlessly spending taxpayer money. One of the things that puzzles me is the efforts of the CAP Board to educate people about the importance of conserving water.

Don't get me wrong! I have been a poster child for saving water and precious top soil for more than a few decades and wouldn't be caught dead letting the water run while I am brushing my teeth. But the CAP's customers are not retail customers except for one or two individual farmers.

I learned that the CAP Board gives away $50,000 a year to schools and non-profit organizations that apply to them for cash so they can haul children around to water exhibits on Water Days, and to the Maricopa Agricultural Center, which is affiliated with the University of Arizona, just 'cause.

The CAP Board also gives away six $1,000 scholarships each year to the children and grandchildren of the CAP employees. It costs taxpayers more than the $6,000, because they hire an outside firm to evaluate the scholarship applications.

The Board willingly chooses to pay for sponsorships that it should think twice about. For instance: The annual ASU/JP Morgan Chase Economic Forecast Luncheon is being held at the Phoenix Convention Center on Dec. 7. The tickets are $90 a person ($18 muffins, anyone?). CAP has purchased a table for $900. Is this really necessary? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard that the Board spent $38,000 on entertaining and optional events last year.

Whenever anybody has a Fair Day of some sort or another, deal the CAP contribution in.

Now for the big ticket items. Not only do CAP employees belong to the Arizona State Retirement System, with the CAP contributing the employers' share to the ASRS retirement plan, but workers also get the benefit of a 401(k) program if they so choose. And the CAP contributes up to half of the employees contribution into their 401(k)s. The lucky stiffs get to have both!

Here's the deal with the Arizona State Retirement System contributions: CAP makes their contribution, and then the employees make a contribution. But the employees' contribution is a check that is cut for them. It is not included in their base pay. They are paid this amount and then they immediately contribute it back to the ASRS. So if he earns $100,000 and his contribution is $10,000 for the ASRS that year, he isn't paying taxes on the $110,000. This bookkeeping trick allows CAP to cover both ends of the contribution.
There are 476 employees, and most of them belong to the 401(k) program. This perk cost taxpayers over $940,000 last year. We shouldn't be paying for both.

If you don't mind, I think I'll take that whiskey now.

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