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FORT WORTH -- A normally obscure election in Tarrant County is prompting a big-money water fight this year.

The Tarrant Regional Water District board is responsible for acquiring water for nearly two million people across 11 counties. Board members decide where and how to get it.

Historically, few voters have paid attention to the election.

"Until about 10 years ago, this was a January election, where the total vote was like 300 votes," said Fort Worth Star-Telegram political writer Bud Kennedy. "No one showed up."

But, this year, three challengers stunned incumbents with about a $250,000 combined advertising blitz as early voting began.

"Big money, coming from two investors in Dallas who own land in East Texas in the way of the integrated pipeline to bring water to Dallas and Fort Worth," Kennedy said.

The land owners can't vote in the election, but could be affected by the board's decisions on the pipeline route.

Incumbents fired back with a full-page Star-Telegram ad Friday against "rogue Dallas businessmen." It was paid for by the Clean Water Committee, with the backing of Fort Worth's mayor and political establishment.

"This is not usual for the monied leadership in Fort Worth to be outspent three-to-one in a race by millionaires from Dallas," Kennedy said.

Acquiring water is only half the job of the water district board. The other half is flood control. That's why the board was established.

But the biggest challenge now is getting enough water for future growth. That means pumping it from East Texas, and trying to buy it from Oklahoma. That effort resulted in a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The board also has a hand in financing of the Trinity River Vision project to create a town lake, stimulate economic development, and improve flood control.

Although the Tarrant Regional Water District election has historically drawn little interest, this year it has. About 9,000 voters have already cast ballots.

Kennedy believes that bodes well for at least some of the challengers.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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