As voters trek to the polls today, they'll have to plow through a thicket of conflicting information, rumors and accusations.
Nowhere is this more true than in the $20,000 race for Merced Irrigation District's one open seat.
Parsing truth from rumor in this race has become as hard as eating soup with a knife. In this case there's a little of both in each campaign's accusations.
Incumbent Jack Hooper has said his opponent, Dave Long, is beholden to outside interests. Long has accused Hooper of selling local water to Southern Californian cities.
First, for the claims against Long and his "outside interest" backers:
So far, according to his filings, Long has raised more than $16,000, $5,000 of which he loaned himself. Only $2,900 of that cash came from donors with addresses outside Merced, according to campaign filings.
The largest chunk of cash from an "outside" group came from a Ripon-based company called Van Vliet Enterprises, which gave Long $1,000. Long said his company does business with Van Vliet Enterprises.
Bluff Ranches, a Hughson-based farming interest that owns land in Merced, gave Long $500. Its sister company, also in Hughson, gave the campaign another $500.
James Warner, a nut buyer in Chicago, gave Long's campaign $300. Asked if he thought he could be described as an outside interest he simply said, "An outside interest -- that's ludicrous."
Long's former accountant, DeMera Cameron, in Fresno, also donated $250 to Long.
And finally, two of Long's employees, who live in Turlock, gave his campaign a combined $250. And a board member from Sierra Vista in Modesto gave his campaign $100.
Long has repeatedly denied accusations thrown his way by Hooper. "I'm not beholden to anybody," he said.
After repeated questions, Hooper declined to explain who the outside interests he has described might be, beside those listed above.
On the other side, Long's campaign literature accuses Hooper of voting to sell water to outside interests, including the city of Los Angeles, at the expense of local farmers.
MID officials all deny the district has ever sold water to cities, especially not to L.A. "The district has never sold water to Southern Californian domestic water agencies," said Garith Krause, who was MID's general manager from 2004 to 2008.
MID Board Chair Tim Pellissier said as much. "We have never sold any water south of the Tehachapis," he said.
Hicham Eltal, the district's interim general manager, said the history of water sales shows that in almost every case farmers haven't been hurt by them.
The district has made six water sales, not counting special legal settlements, since 1994, according to MID documents quoted by Eltal. All those sales, except for a sale to an irrigation district on the Westside, went to state or federal bodies using the water for environmental reasons, said Eltal.
Except for one year, those sales haven't affected farmers, added Eltal. Every year the district has sold water, except for 2007, there was no curtailment. All the water that was sold would've been released for flood control reasons anyway, he said.
In 2007 the district sold roughly 25,000 acre-feet -- an acre-foot is equal to 376,000 gallons -- in May, expecting a strong snowmelt, said Eltal. But come spring the runoff into the reservoir was much less than normal. The season had to be cut short by a month.
Hooper has countered Long's critiques by explaining that water sales are a necessity since the water side of MID doesn't generate enough revenue to pay for itself.
Eltal said MID's water delivery operation consistently loses money. Water sales have been a tool used by the board to retrieve the lost revenue, he said.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at email@example.com.