The recent election of two Kennewick Irrigation District board members again highlights the problems with antiquated water laws.
Less than 1 percent of KID's customers voted in the election. Yes, you read that right. Of 20,000 customers, 145 voted.
That is hardly a show of enthusiasm. Heck, that's not even evidence of faint interest by the KID members.
We hear a lot from the district's customers when there's discussion about rate increases or restructuring the rate system.
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We hear complaints about fairness and access and all kinds of issues. But the KID customers certainly aren't speaking with their votes.
We doubt that apathy alone explains the lack of input because much of the time KID customers appear anything but uninterested.
None of this is to say we think incumbents Patrick McGuire and Gene Huffman were poor choices as board members. That's not what this editorial is about.
KID's selection of board members is structured differently than most elections we're used to reporting about.
Even though only 145 customers voted, they carried 3,632 votes.
Irrigation law assigns votes to landowners in irrigation districts based on the amount of property they own. Owners with fewer than five acres get two votes. For every additional five acres, landowners get two more votes.
So farmers -- the people irrigation law was designed to govern and protect in the first place -- could have hundreds of votes apiece, while the guy on a standard city lot gets only two.
The formula is discouraging to the little guy, and the voting process doesn't help. Customers who haven't arranged for absentee ballots must travel downtown to vote at the KID office between 1 and 8 p.m. election day.
The whole thing is a mess. So much so that most folks didn't bother to vote -- or just didn't care. And either way that's not good.
As the land around the Tri-Cities continues to be transformed from farm use to housing developments, many of those homeowners on city lots don't understand the importance or value of irrigation.
All they want to know is that they will have water for their lawns and gardens when the summer temperatures here top 100.
Many regions in the country would do just about anything to have the bounty of water we have here. The system of dams and rivers and irrigation districts installed in the past century transformed a desert into an oasis, creating the viable and productive land we enjoy today.
Whether that enjoyment is in the form of green grass or bountiful fields, irrigation is the key to our region's success. But many who aren't involved in agriculture don't get it. Water makes our world go 'round.
Greater appreciation is needed, but the election process needs mending too. Laws should be changed to allow one vote per customer, regardless of the amount of property owned. Public utility districts don't assign votes based on electrical use, and their boards don't generate nearly as much controversy.
A more user-friendly voting process is also needed. All-mail elections decide every other officeholder in the state -- including PUD commissioners -- why not irrigation district commissioners?
But whether frustration with the process or apathy was behind the low turnout, KID customers ought to be ashamed of their poor showing.
If you're happy with the district's leadership, give a vote of confidence. If you want to see change, cast your ballot. But don't just ignore your chance to participate.
You risk being ignored in return.