WaterOne board candidates on the issues: Biggest issue facing the water district today

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for the WaterOne Board of Directors address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a three-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues facing our community.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of three questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

What is the biggest issue facing the water district today, and what should the board be doing to address it?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Member 3 Seat

Joann Atchity

As a consumer, a voter and now as a candidate, my prime consideration is that of informed consent. To make an informed choice we MUST know both the benefits AND risks. This is true nowhere more than in medical decisions, especially about drugs.

Fluoride is recognized by the FDA as an unapproved drug. It does not treat the water, it treats the person who drinks the water. Adding any drug to the public water supply goes against every principle of informed consent. If traces of pharmaceuticals are found in tap water, people are understandably upset. Yet we think somehow that it’s ok to add fluoride.

The dental benefits of fluoride are from topical application ONLY. It should not be ingested. Look at your fluoride toothpaste. It will say “harmful if swallowed.”

Among the known risks of fluoride is neurotoxicity to the developing brain on the same scale as lead. Dozens of high quality, peer reviewed studies have shown the neurotoxicity of fluoride especially to the developing brain of a fetus and to the brain of infants to 6 months of age. Pregnant and new moms must be given this information to make an informed choice about using fluoridated water.

Also, damage to joint and connective tissues and damage to both the thyroid and pineal glands are known risks of ingesting fluoride.

As with any drug the effect of fluoride is dose dependent. When adding a drug to the water supply there is no way to control the dose. Fluoride accumulates in the body over time and concentrates especially in the thyroid and pineal glands which impairs the function of each. How many people do you personally know who are on thyroid medication or who use melatonin?

Accumulation of fluoride causes dental fluorosis, a condition of discoloration and spots on the teeth. Dental fluorosis is a good indication of skeletal fluorosis, which damages the bone and joint tissues.

Fluoride is metabolized primarily by the kidneys so those with reduced kidney function are at even greater risk of damage from fluoride.

Topical fluoride products are inexpensive and readily available for anyone who chooses to use them.

No one should EVER be forced to ingest a drug against their consent. Water fluoridation MUST be stopped immediately.

For more information visit fluoridealert.org.

Kay Heley (incumbent)

The biggest issue facing the Water District is climate change. Our region’s adverse climate events (higher temperatures, drought and flooding) triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) heavily impact our source water and WaterOne’s financial bottom line.

Addressing climate change has two components: climate adaptation or making infrastructure and daily operations resilient to adverse climate events and climate mitigation or reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions increased by fossil fuels. Water utilities have large investments in infrastructure to protect and use a lot of power to pump, treat and distribute drinking water. Our Board oversees over $1 billion in infrastructure. US EPA notes that water systems account for approximately 2% of energy use in the US, adding more than 45 million tons of GHG annually.  As much as 40% of drinking water utilities’ production costs are spent on energy, largely from fossil fuels.

The AWIA (American Water Infrastructure Act of 2018) requires water systems serving more than 3300 people to develop emergency response plans for adverse climate events. AWIA has triggered water utilities to incorporate climate adaptation into their Master Plans with strategies like increasing redundancy and storage and building above the 500-year flood plain.  For decades, the Water District has been proactive in building a second treatment plant, a collector well above the 500-year flood plain, more storage and intakes on two rivers while planning for redundancy in daily operations. Climate adaptation is expensive but is necessary to maintain a regular supply of safe water. Our Board approves large projects.

Without a federal law yet requiring water systems to incorporate climate mitigation strategies to track and reduce GHG emissions, the WaterOne Board could act.  Our Board could approve the regional Climate Action Plan released by MARC last spring with a goal of net zero GHG emissions by 2050. Our Board could update our policies to direct staff to track and mitigate GHG emissions. Our Board could direct staff to create a Climate Action Plan specific to WaterOne incorporating both climate adaptation and climate mitigation strategies.  Climate mitigation strategies (some already used by WaterOne) include high-efficiency pumps, reducing nonrevenue water, increasing solar/wind/hydropower capacity, electrifying our fleet, LEED certification, native tree/plant landscaping and watershed protection.  Climate mitigation invokes cost and savings, helps prevent the adverse climate events and is necessary for our survival.  What is our community willing to support financially and policy-wise?  Elections matter. I ask for your vote.

Steve Gordon

There are several important issues facing our water district today.  Our WaterOne district does an excellent job of staying ahead of the challenges, including security for our facilities and protection from cyber-attacks.  I believe the biggest issue facing the Johnson County WaterOne district is the growth of the population we serve.  As we continue to grow and developers add housing and businesses, we must maintain the quality of our water as we are called upon to produce greater amounts.  This means staying on top of infrastructure as it ages, increasing our capacity to produce clean water, and doing our best to see that the cost of adding more lines to those we already have is borne by the population yet to come.  This is a delicate dance, and our WaterOne district does a wonderful job of making sure our growth isn’t at the cost of those who already live here.  In addition, our water is less expensive than it’s surrounding water utilities.



Member 4 Seat

Jeffrey Mendoza

The biggest issue facing the water district today is sustainability.  Natural resources continue to degrade on a yearly basis in our area. It is incumbent on the WaterOne board, as a policy-making board that looks at long-term planning, to institute measures that maintain an ecological balance, which will allow us to continue to have plentiful water sources. The water district deserves access to clean water not only today but long into the future. Upon completing my active-duty service with the United States Marine Corps as a Judge Advocate, along with my wife, I chose Johnson County as the place where I wanted to raise my family. I joined this race because I want to ensure that my son can enjoy clean drinking water for his entire lifetime, he was born in May 2021, its time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Rather than sit on the sidelines and wait for somebody else to figure out how to address the issues facing the water district, I decided that I would put to work the legal skills I gained at UMKC School of Law and sharpened as a legal advisor to the base Generals in the Marine Corps, as a prosecutor in the Marine Corps, and now as a prosecutor for special victim’s cases. The WaterOne board is responsible for making policy decisions that will affect the utility company for the next 40 years. I will prioritize sustainable practices in sourcing, cleaning, and distributing our water, because that’s the only way we can ensure long-term access to clean drinking water for all members of the water district. Addressing the sustainability issues facing the water district includes consideration of environmental sustainability, community sustainability, and economic sustainability. I will be focused on ensuring that WaterOne effectively considers the impact its activities have on the environment and natural resources in our region. It is imperative that we consider those impacts as they directly affect the natural water we utilize, purify, and distribute to homes in the district. I will also focus on community sustainability to include listening to input from all members of the water district to ensure clean healthy water is accessible to everyone. I will focus on economic sustainability to ensure that WaterOne is effectively spending money and providing customers with the best price possible while maintaining high standards in infrastructure and water quality.

Bob Reese (incumbent)

Did not respond

Member 5 Seat

Jill Westra

In my opinion, the biggest issue facing the district today is future-proofing and resilience planning, with a focus on minimizing risk to our resource that is related to a changing climate. While we are in a lucky position to currently be “water rich”, we cannot assume this will be our permanent position in decades to come. Water is a precious natural resource and its availability is shifting, as we witness a change in climate trends, both locally as well as upstream and downstream from our place on the map. It is easy to sit comfortably in the present, when the Missouri River flows at healthy levels and we can enjoy a plentiful resource provided to us at a conveniently low cost. However, looking at the rapidly-changing conditions in other states such as Arizona, Colorado and Texas, and acknowledging that such places are facing increasing levels of drought (and in turn, facing rapidly-rising utility costs) we must make sure that we are evaluating on our own level of risk and planning accordingly for the future. We must not be quick to sweep our own potential risk under the rug, but rather we should be acutely aware that recent NOAA and U.S. Drought Monitor maps also show abnormal dry conditions and increasing patches of short-term drought in the Midwest and east, including states such as Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. While this is a long-term planning issue, I believe in a fulsome, concerted effort by WaterOne and its Board to ensure it does not sneak up on us. Our consumption habits and population are growing and changing in the short-term. While these impacts change as the global climate patterns change, and the users of Missouri River watershed upstream from Kansas change, our resilience planning must be prioritized.

For this reason, I think that it is imperative for the Board of WaterOne to begin mapping our comprehensive sustainability journey. Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I believe now is the time to consider the addition of an Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability committee to the existing family of Board committees, to help guide and direct the utility’s sustainability journey and provide dedicated Board-level guidance and oversight of strategic planning in relation to these topics.

Missey Smith

Did not respond

On Tuesday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question 2:

WaterOne is in the process of installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure across the district. This system has the potential to allow customers to better understand their water consumption and avoid surprise high bills by accessing data about their usage online. What does the district need to do to ensure customers are aware of the new system and get the most out of it?