Being in spotlight is a chance for KID to shine

Kennewick Irrigation District isn't the most popular organization in town, especially when the weather's hot and the grass is dry.

For those property owners stuck paying an annual assessment on land that isn't connected to the irrigation system, the hostility is sometimes palpable.

The district's rate structure leaves many residential customers feeling like they're unfairly subsidizing big agricultural users.

And with landowners getting extra votes based on the amount of property they own, many customers believe KID board elections are skewed in agriculture's favor.

To put it briefly: KID has an image problem.

Two recent news items should help improve that image.

One is that 84 dry "customers" (Can you really call them customers if they pay for a service that isn't deliverable?) who want to relinquish their water rights can get out of the system starting next year.

This has been a sore spot with some residents for decades. It's really not even KID's fault, but the agency gets the blame since that's where homeowners send their checks.

Years ago, developers put in housing tracts but skipped the infrastructure that would have connected the building sites to irrigation water.

That might have held down construction costs, but water rights -- and irrigation assessments -- are legally tied to the land whether the water is used or not.

It's been costing some people around $200 a year for water they can't get. That's no way to make friends.

Under federal law, KID had been prohibited from releasing these homeowners from their financial obligation.

But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation changed its policy in 2007, giving KID the ability to transfer some of those water rights.

If one of the district's dry landowners wants out, it's now often possible to transfer the water rights to one of the properties on KID's waiting list.

It's what Scott Revell, KID's planning manager, calls a win-win situation. It's a bit clich, but score one for KID.

KID has also been in the headlines this week over an employee ethics issue. Apparently it was acceptable practice for some of the workers to borrow power tools or lawnmowers during off hours for personal use.

It's not an appropriate use of publicly owned equipment. And it's illegal.

We're not sure how long this has been going on, but it's a practice that should have come to an end long ago. It's got to be infuriating to pay an assessment on a dry lot, knowing that it won't get you any water but that you are helping maintain a tool library for KID employees.

Of course, it took an employee's complaint to bring the practice to light. And the position of whistleblower isn't always an enviable place to be. Some co-workers may be less than appreciative, as was the case here.

To reinforce the board's policy (and state laws), all employees were required to attend a three-hour training session on employee ethics and public resources.

Responding to employee complaints, stopping unethical (although long-standing) practices and providing additional training all seem to point to brighter days at KID.

It helps to make the agency more professional and ought to give the public hope that improvements are under way.

They are good steps. We're eager to see more positive changes.