Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Legislature needs to curb Tucson Water’s extra-territorial enthusiasm

There’s an old saying in the West that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.

The Tucson region has had some historic fights over water but in 2008, the city and the county set about trying to craft a comprehensive regional water and wastewater plan to bring some sanity to water use in the metropolitan area. That plan, completed in 2010, establishes Tucson Water’s sphere of influence to the entire metropolitan area, including the Avra Valley and Vail. [Read the plan: ActionPlan.pdf]

Water and sewer systems are among the biggest barriers to growth. No water, no sewer, then no ganga development with thousands of homes and strip malls. It’s too costly for developers to establish their own water and sewer systems; it’s easier and less expensive for them to tap into existing pipes.

That gives the city and county enormous power to control the amount and direction of growth in the metro area.

Yet while voters who have to pay for county sewer infrastructure or who might want more or less growth can express their will at the ballot box for the county Board of Supervisors, only half of metro area voters can do that for Tucson Water.

Tucson Water policy is set by the City Council so only city voters get to have a say in regional water policy as determined by the plan.

Nearly a third of Tucson Water’s 800,00 customers live outside the city limits, including all of the Catalina and Tucson Mountains foothills.

Tucson Water service area and expansion plan/Source: Tucson Water (click twice to enlarge)

The regional water plan took that into consideration, requiring developers of large parcels of land in some of the so-called “obligated service area” to agree to be annexed before the city will agree to extend a water pipe.

But that does nothing for the hundreds of thousands of existing disenfranchised Tucson Water customers.

Next month city voters will elect a new mayor and decide whether to retain three incumbent council members. Soon after the election, the new council will decide whether it wants to embark on a nearly $500 million plan to build treatment plants that will reduce the salinity of CAP water.

Tucson Water officials told the council at its meeting last week that if it went ahead with the plan it would cost the average Tucson Water customer about $11 more a month, which for average rate payers is about a 33 percent increase in their rate.

The only way extra-territorial Tucson Water customers can have a say in that decision is to agree to be annexed into the city.

This situation cries out for a legislative solution, as dangerous as that may be considering the current conservative legislative leadership’s hatred for liberal Tucson.

The Legislature needs to pass a bill that allows for the creation of regional water authorities with elected boards. Or failing that, it needs to force Tucson to divest itself of its extraterritorial systems or subject those portions of its system to Corporation Commission regulatory oversight.

Half of the county should not be able to dictate water policy and impose water rates on most of the other half.

You can comment on the Action Plan’s first year;
View a Tucson Water PowerPoint presented to the City Council Tuesday on the history of CAP water in Tucson and its recommendations about whether to remove salt from CAP water.

Ed. Note: Full disclosure, I’m a disenfranchised Tucson Water customer and have been cheesed off about it for years.

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