RWR investors John Kim and Hugh Bernardi have also given tens of thousands of dollars to other candidates’ elections. Kim gave $5,000 and Bernardi $11,000 to Robert Kennah, who won a four-year director-at-large term in May. Bernardi gave $5,000 and Kim $11,000 to Kory Nelson, who lost to incumbent board President Merlin Klotz. Nelson is contesting the results in court.
The double-digit contributions in a water district election raised red flags for Klotz, a former Douglas County clerk and recorder.
“They are in the business of skinning dollars off of trading water,” Klotz said, who emphasized the vulnerability of the district’s assets in this scenario, valued at over one billion dollars. “We are in the business of supplying the community—our motives are different than their motives.”
Typically, such contests draw scant attention and little money. Only a fraction of the 37,683 ballots delivered to district customers were returned—Kennah won with 1,730 votes and Klotz with 1,520, beating Nelson by 26 votes, hand-written certified results show.
In an interview, Kim said he gave the money to Nelson and Kennah’s campaigns because he’s “a long-time resident here in Douglas County, and I wanted to participate in the political process on an issue I think is important for Douglas County.”
“They are in the business of skinning dollars off of trading water. We are in the business of supplying the community—our motives are different than their motives.”
The commercial real estate investor added that he thinks water districts need to look closely at opportunities to develop new water supplies.
“I think Douglas County is a growing community and we need to make sure we have the appropriate water resources,” said Kim, who won a seat on the Roxborough Water & Sanitation District in 2022 and is now its treasurer. That district held $116 million in assets at the end of the 2022 fiscal year.
Bernardi, Kennah, Booth, and Nelson didn’t return requests for comment.
Kennah and Nelson agreed during an April radio interview, however, they would like to help the Parker district “secure good quality sources to fill their reservoir,” in a nod toward RWR’s project.
“We need to look at the long term and a commitment to work with the other regions in securing those primary use rights,” said Nelson. “The whole issue about the San Luis Valley and talking about that water source—we need to take a real hard look at that.”
A Wrenching Choice, A Campaign Manager
The stakes are rising for municipalities in the West that are searching to buttress water supplies from dwindling aquifers as scarce renewable surface water, escalating growth, and climate change accelerate problems.
Parker’s water district is a case study in the wrenching choices urban and rural residents will be forced to make around how to allocate shrinking water supplies. A state plan released this year offered this dire forecast for Colorado’s water future: “Municipal, industrial, and agricultural gaps are projected to occur in all scenarios.”
Districts must decide whether to ink deals with investors like RWR, which view brokering water as a money-making opportunity.
Eschewing such deals is a top priority of water managers like Joe Frank. White pelicans floated nearby as Frank stood on the banks of the South Platte River recently, remembering the exact time and date gauges showed that the waterway had more than enough for everyone: 5 a.m. on May 12.