With the specter of Proposition 200 fresh in their minds, Tucson and Pima County officials are taking steps to plan for water conservation and growth.
And while this cooperative effort is laudable and long overdue, there are obstacles that must be overcome.
While there are hopes that a metropolitan water authority can be formed – much as the Regional Transportation Authority came into being in 2005 – that’s extremely unlikely.
Nonetheless, any cooperation among Tucson, Pima County, other area municipalities and smaller water providers would be welcome.
Earlier this month, city voters soundly junked Prop. 200, which would have placed restrictions on how and how much water is distributed, limited the use of effluent and prohibited the delivery of wastewater, regardless of how highly it is treated.
Elected officials – irrespective of jurisdiction and political stance – were unanimous in their opposition to Prop. 200.
But despite the solid defeat – by a margin of almost 3-to-1 – this is a topic that will not and should not drop from the public agenda. It will be resurrected at some time in some form. And that incarnation could well be more ham-handed yet more appealing to the voters.
Worse yet, lawsuits could put the entire mess in the hands of a federal judge, whose rulings would make him or her a de facto water czar.
Realizing that, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to work with the city on a joint water planning and infrastructure study aimed at ensuring there will be enough drinkable water to accommodate growth.
Guidelines for the study will be established within three months, and the county will contribute $100,000.
The city is thinking along the same lines. Councilwoman Karin Uhlich will introduce a similar measure.
Tucson Water – a city department – now provides water to a large part of the metro area. The county handles sewer services for the region.
But water customers outside the city limits have no say in Tucson Water’s operation. And existing city-county agreements don’t take into account other municipalities that need treated effluent or other water companies that suck from the same aquifer.
A regionwide water authority has been seen as a goal, but that’s unlikely. It worked with transportation because a new entity and funding source were created. But the city won’t give up control and infrastructure of Tucson Water. That’s understandable; it’s a substantial city asset.
So creativity is needed.
Water planning should certainly be regionalized, because we all drink from the same aquifer. And negotiations must include consideration of effluent, which will become more important as fresh water sources diminish.
This must be an open-ended discussion involving every agency and company that deals with water.
It is water that determines where, when and how quickly we grow. This is a discussion that cannot be delayed.
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