Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Water: Legislature asleep at the faucet

Water sustainability is impossible here. After 30 years, the state water agency has done nothing for sustainability – but there’s an explanation.

The agency was created to carry out the water laws created by the Arizona Legislature, which has failed to recognize the issue.

Piping water from a river 400 miles away – with no guarantee of future flows – could hardly be called “sustainability.” In Tucson, the illusion of sustainability will come at a high price.

In 1980, the amount of groundwater pumped exceeded the natural recharge by 2.5 million acre-feet annually. The majority of usage was and is for subsidized cotton.

The Legislature grandfathered in that use and mandated that urban areas find “renewable supplies.”

Legislators patted themselves on the back because this enabled federal funds for the $4.7 billion Central Arizona Project to bring 1.5 million acre-feet a year to Phoenix and Tucson.

Nothing was done to stop the deficit. An Arizona judge wrote an opinion that state water law was created for cotton farmers, who pay virtually no property taxes and get free water.

In the 28 years since, the 2.5 million acre-foot annual deficit translates into 70 million.

Currently, non-agricultural usage in all the “managed” urban areas is 785,000 acre-feet yearly.

The 70 million acre-feet a year could have provided water for all urban Arizonans and industry for 89 years.

Even though the legislators effectively mandated that CAP water be used in the Tucson region, they did not provide any funds for water companies to connect to the main CAP canal.

Tucson Water is the only company that has been able to pay for infrastructure to deliver CAP water to its customers.

Small water providers in unincorporated areas have little or no hope of delivering “mandated” CAP water because they can’t raise the massive capital necessary.

The Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates water rates, has been reluctant to approve rate increases that would force customers to pay for infrastructure that should be paid for by investors. So the water table throughout the Tucson Basin, except in central Tucson, continues to go down.

Thousands of acre-feet of storm water in Pima County are not productively used.

Yet the current plan to get more water for the Groundwater Replenishment District, created to enable development, is to pump dry a couple of aquifers in a sparsely populated area in western Arizona.

Destruction of animal and plant life plus serious earth fissures will result.

How will the district continue to support more growth when those aquifers dry up? Well, there’s the Sea of Cortez.

Who will pay for building the plant and pipeline, plus the energy costs? Undoubtedly, Mexico will rubber-stamp the destruction of their sea with a nuclear power plant and salty brine.

We can pay for that too! There is no limit to the price of Groundwater Replenishment District water.

Tucson Water will be using effluent for potable water. It’s use is shown on page three of their water plan – and was even discussed during the Proposition 200 debacle.

The price tag on the new Roger Road facility is $26 million. So in 2015, Tucson Water will be receiving 25 million gallons per day of B+ effluent, which will need further treatment – and costs – to bring it up to potable standards.

Water management has to be done regionally to reform laws created to encourage farming and development.

But our legislators continually kowtow to development. They created paper water for the Groundwater Replenishment District and have given “grandfathering” status to several urban sprawl projects in Rio Rico and Prescott, creating a water management nightmare in those regions.

I don’t know which is worse – our legislators or our grandfathers – but I bet Arizona’s water situation would be in better shape without them!

The smoke and mirrors of the Prop. 200 campaign – about which Carole Zimmerman boasted, “I raised that $750,000 to defeat Prop 200″ – shows us who’s running this town.

We citizens have to get informed and involved to protect our future, because sustainability Tucson-style will come at a very high price.

Nancy Freeman has a weekly program on Access Tucson community TV, “Water Facts,” and is executive director of the Groundwater Awareness League, bringing “grandmothering” to Arizona.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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