It will take several years for Colorado River water being pumped tomorrow from a city facility in Avra Valley to reach detectable levels in Tucson.
By MICHAEL LAFLEUR
Citizen Staff Writer
Tucson Water says it will be at least two years before a single drop of Colorado River water flows from the faucets of Tucson homes.
But that is not exactly the message the utility’s administrators are giving as they prepare to turn on the pumps tomorrow at the Colorado River water recharge facility in Avra Valley.
In public appearances and brochures mailed to thousands of water customers, Tucson Water Director David Modeer touts tomorrow’s event as the beginning of a new approach in the delivery of Central Arizona Project water to the city.
Yes, the wells will be turned on. But it will take several years for the amount of CAP water being pumped from the Clearwater Renewable Resource Facility in Avra Valley to reach detectable levels in Tucson kitchens and bathrooms.
Additionally, it will take two to three days for water from Avra Valley just to reach the central city. So what comes out of the faucet tomorrow – and probably Friday and Saturday, too – won’t be very new at all. It will be virtually the same water you brushed your teeth with today.
Water officials said their 675,000 ratepayers will receive differing amounts of recharged CAP water at staggered intervals, depending upon where they live.
They insist that calling May 3 the day the change in city drinking water begins was not meant to create false impressions.
“We felt it was better to pick a date and just say, ‘Here’s when the change starts,’ rather than trying to say, in the material we put out, ‘Well, it’s going to be a month over here, a month over there,’ ” said Tucson Water spokesman Mitch Basefsky.
And that apparently is fine with some of the utility’s harshest critics. They aren’t accusing Tucson Water of dishonesty, and they agree the utility’s doing a much better job than in 1992, when the introduction of directly delivered CAP water proved to be a disaster.
“What they’re doing is a million times better than what we would have had with the old CAP delivery,” said local car dealer Bob Beaudry, CAP water’s foremost opponent in the early and mid-1990s.
“In fact, their campaign is very accurate, and the system they’ve put together is probably one of the most sophisticated filtering systems ever put together on the planet,” he said.
The gradual change in recharged river water levels is part of the plan to make the delivery of CAP water as unnoticeable as possible, water officials said.
“Initially, the water that is coming from the Clearwater facility is central Avra Valley groundwater,” said Marie Pearthree, Tucson Water’s deputy director. “The whole idea is to bring in Colorado River water so gradually there are no perceptible changes.”
According to a Tucson Water analysis, it could be 10 years before the water coming from Tucsonans’ taps reaches the about 50-50 blend of recharged CAP and groundwater the utility has told customers to expect.
Starting tomorrow, Clearwater will begin sending Tucson homes an average of 18 million gallons a day of the central Avra Valley water.
Next summer, water officials will increase the amount to 36 million gallons a day. By 2003, the project’s final phase, Clearwater will be producing 54 million gallons a day, or 53 percent of the city’s water supply.
It will be “like a person growing,” Modeer said. “It’s going to be so gradual over time that it’s going to be very difficult to notice the difference.”
Pearthree noted that in the CAP debacle of the early 1990s, the river water was filtered, treated and delivered directly to Tucson homes almost overnight, and that was the root cause of complications.
The city water system “had been in equilibrium with groundwater,” she said. “CAP had different water qualities, and in some cases flowed in a different direction.
“That’s a pretty abrupt change to go from groundwater to a different water quality literally overnight,” she said. As a result, “there were problems.”
Outspoken CAP critic Terry Pollock said he doesn’t have a problem with the city’s latest CAP marketing campaign.
But he said the effort obscured the fact that introducing CAP water will lead to the “degradation” of Tucson’s drinking supply.
“The marketing campaign was based strictly on tastes, under ideal circumstances in glittery little bottles,” said Pollock, who owns an advertising and public relations firm.
“It was an ideal marketing campaign,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think it sold our community . . . a commodity they didn’t have to buy and one which represents the long-term degradation of our water quality.”
Water officials point out that Tucson is one of the largest cities in America to rely solely on groundwater.
They add that using CAP water in some form is necessary to avoid problems of subsidence, or land sinking, from excess groundwater pumping and to support our continuing growth.
Ultimately, the current CAP delivery program will allow 85 of the 195 wells in the central wellfield to be taken offline and placed in standby mode, Pearthree said.
And this time, water officials promise a marked departure from the first CAP experiment, which began in 1993, when the utility began direct CAP delivery, and ended in 1994, when the program’s spectacular failure and resulting public outcry prompted the Tucson City Council to shut it down.
During that period, the utility logged more than 12,000 customer complaints about CAP water, and many Tucsonans were greeted with rust-colored, foul-smelling and bad-tasting water that corroded or burst pipes.
Modeer’s predecessor, Kent McClain, was relieved of his duties over his handling of the crisis.
And to ensure problems didn’t get repeated, Tucson voters in 1995 approved the Water Consumer Protection Act by a 60 percent margin. The measure prohibits the direct treatment and delivery of CAP water unless it is the same quality as Avra Valley groundwater, which is less salty and much softer than CAP water.
Those requirements lead to the city’s current “recharge and recovery” approach to CAP delivery.
Beaudry was the money man behind the 1995 act.
He now serves on the board of directors for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which governs the CAP canal.
“There’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing, and in fact it’s more than what we would have asked for, probably, had we not had this huge water fight,” he said.
“Once they recharge it (CAP water) first, they don’t have to put in all these chemicals to kill the parasites and bacteria,” Beaudry said. “On top of that, we’re getting the added benefit of the water being blended with groundwater. It’s a really wonderful system as compared to direct delivery.”
Beaudry said he would have preferred a recharge project in Tucson river beds, a proposal opposed by Tucson Water officials and rejected by voters in 1999.
He added that Clearwater is a “revolutionary, unique, high-quality, superb operation. It’s just expensive.”
Recharge works by allowing CAP water to seep into the groundwater aquifer naturally before being pumped back to the surface.
In Tucson, that recovered “recharged CAP water” is then blended with pure groundwater to improve its quality before being sent to customers.
After four years of taste testing programs, Tucson Water officials determined that a 50-50 blend of recharged CAP and pure groundwater would be most acceptable to customers.
The component in water most responsible for its taste and hardness is mineral content, or dissolved salts. CAP water’s mineral content is about 670 parts per million.
Tucson’s groundwater has a mineral content that averages 250 to 300 ppm but can reach 500 ppm in some areas.
By blending the CAP water with groundwater, Tucson Water officials say they will be able to maintain a mineral content threshold of 450 ppm, which customers in their water quality programs said was acceptable, Basefsky said.
“It really is designed through the customers’ perspective, not from what we want to do,” Modeer said.
Logistically, Pearthree said, Tucson Water officials have been preparing for tomorrow for years.
Many of the problems associated with the previous CAP delivery stemmed from faulty or aging water mains and a miscalculation made in selecting a “corrosion inhibitor” for the water.
Because of those factors, pure CAP water rotted pipes.
And because it was much harder than groundwater, it loosened calcium carbonate that had built up inside the mains and which in some cases was holding pipes together.
The result was nasty, discolored water and burst pipes.
“It became very clear to the entire community that we needed to replace those old galvanized mains,” Pearthree said.
The Tucson Water system consists of 3,700 miles of underground pipelines, she said. Only a small portion of those needed replacement.
Since voters approved a $114 million water bond package in 1994, the utility has spent $40 million to replace 96 percent of the old galvanized iron water main system – 169 miles of new pipe. Tucson Water has also spent $8.9 million to reline all of the city’s old cast-iron water mains – 43 miles of pipe, Pearthree said.
But those changes aren’t enough to assure Gerald Juliani, president of the Pure Water Coalition and an author of the Water Consumer Protection Act.
“I think it’ll be safe to drink,” Juliani said of the recharged CAP. “I don’t think Tucson Water is trying to make anyone ill. Whether or not it is as palatable as the water you can get in the grocery store remains to be seen.
“I think a lot of people share my skepticism,” he said.
For more information on the CAP program, visit the Tucson Water website at www.ci.tucson.az.us/water/.
Extraction wells: 9
Recharge basins: 3
Average quantity: 18 million gallons a day/20,000 acre-feet a year
Phase II 2002
Extraction wells: 18
Recharge basins: 3
Average quantity: 36 million gallons a day/40,000 acre-feet a year
Phase III 2003
Extraction wells: 25
Recharge basins: 11
Average quantity: 54 million gallons a day/60,000 acre-feet a year.
Project cost: $75 million
Source: Tucson Water
Central Wellfield Wells to Be Taken Off-line and Placed in Standby Mode
Phase I: 26 wells
Phase II: 61 wells
Phase III: 85 wells
Note: Well figures are cumulative. There are 195 wells in the Central Wellfield. Wells will be shut down where there is the greatest potential for subsidence.
Source: Tucson Water
- The CAP aqueduct stretches 336 miles from Lake Havasu City to Tucson.
- Average water depth in the aqueduct is 16.5 feet.
- The canal delivers an average of 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water a year. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, about the amount a family of five uses in a year.
- Tucson’s annual CAP allocation is 139,000 acre-feet.
- Nearly 20 million people – residents of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico – drink Colorado River water every day.
City determined not to founder in tide of bad PR
By MICHAEL LAFLEUR
Citizen Staff Writer
For Tucson’s schoolchildren, Joaquim Delgado is the face of Tucson Water.
The 40-year-old native of the Cape Verde Islands is the utility spokesman in charge of spreading the word about water conservation and plans to deliver a blend of Colorado River and groundwater to Tucson homes.
Whether the water tastes good might be open to question. But Delgado, the face of a $1.5 million, four-year public relations campaign mounted by Tucson Water, is proof the utility at least wants to look good.
Delgado conducts an average of three tours a month of the utility’s Clearwater Renewable Resource Facility in Avra Valley, near West Mile Wide and North Sandario roads.
Almost every work day, Delgado puts on a presentation. He speaks to students – from kids in elementary school to students at the University of Arizona and Pima Community College – and adults all over town.
An unapologetic supporter of river water delivered by the Central Arizona Project canal, Delgado doesn’t pull punches about his employer’s role in the CAP debacle of the early 1990s.
“My message is, Tucson Water screwed up big time and took a long time to tell the community,” he said. “It was mainly a lot of miscalculations on our part.
“The issue is with Tucson Water, the way we handled it, and it’s unfortunate that the community thinks that the issue is with Colorado River water.”
Delgado is quick to note that the previous CAP crisis has forced positive changes at the utility.
“Because of all the controversy, I believe Tucson Water has become a much more proactive company,” he said.
Mitch Basefsky, Tucson Water’s head spokesman, said that in 1992 – the year treated CAP water was directly piped to Tucson homes – Delgado’s position didn’t even exist.
At the time, “there was no effort to work with customers to determine what was happening or determine the quality of the water,” he said.
Basesky said the only outreach done back then involved surveys at shopping malls, where people were given CAP water and asked if they could tell the difference from groundwater.
Unfortunately, no one had figured out how the actual delivery system would work before turning it on.
Two years later, the city’s first CAP experiment ended in a disaster of burst pipes and foul-smelling, rust-colored water. City Council members, responding to a public outcry, shut the program down.
Basefsky said the utility’s response to customer complaints about the poor CAP delivery program was, “We’re working on it, be patient.”
“And that was one of our mistakes,” he said. “We were basically trying to fix the system while operating it and delivering substandard water to some of our customers.”
This time, Tucson Water was determined to learn from mistakes. The utility has been spending $350,000 a year since 1997 to promote and gather customer comments on the Clearwater facility.
“The approach that we’ve taken in response to the issue is to be as transparent as possible,” said Marie Pearthree, deputy head of the utility.
“It’s very important for this community to know as much as they can, and we’re trying to provide that.”
In that vein, the utility launched three major endeavors:
- At the Tap, begun in 1997, was a taste-testing program that resulted in the CAP water quality standards in use today.
- Ambassador Neighborhood Program, which ran for 90 days in 1999, sent residents of four neighborhoods – 80 homes – the 50-50 blend of CAP and groundwater accepted by participants in the At the Tap program.
- Throughout the past two years, water officials gave away more than 1 million 20-ounce bottles of the blend used in the neighborhood program.
Tucson Water Director David Modeer said the effort has been geared to determine what water quality customers will accept.
“We’re not doing propaganda to try to convince them to buy Coke or buy Pepsi or something,” Modeer said. “We’re trying to figure out what they want and get that to them.”
City’s $75M Avra Valley project at heart of CAP delivery plans
By MICHAEL LAFLEUR
Citizen Staff Writer
Tucson Water plans to augment the city’s dwindling groundwater supply by using Colorado River water delivered here by the 336-mile Central Arizona Project canal.
At the heart of the utility’s plan to “recharge” river water in the Avra Valley groundwater aquifer and then blend that supply with pure groundwater – eventually reaching a 50-50 mixture – is the $75 million Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project, or CAVSARP.
Built in 1997, the project is now considered part of the Clearwater Renewable Resource Facility, near West Mile Wide and North Sandario roads.
In the recharge project’s first phase, CAP water is pumped into one of three 30-acre recharge basins and allowed to drain into the aquifer, 375 feet below ground in Avra Valley.
But the utility’s 11 wells there extend to an average depth of 1,000 feet. The well screens, which allow water intake, begin at about 580 feet.
Once the wells are turned on tomorrow, it will take years for the recharged CAP water to reach the level of the well screens.
Utility officials estimate that by the project’s final phase in 2003 – when there will be 11 recharge basins and 25 wells – up to 20 percent of recovered water will be recharged CAP water.
Joe Babcock, Tucson Water’s chief planner, said it could be as late as 2006 before the 50-50 recharged CAP water-groundwater blend is seen at Clearwater.
It could take until 2011, he said, for that blend to reach Tucson homes because of the complicated blending process that occurs within Tucson Water’s distribution system.
After it is recovered, central Avra Valley water is sent to the Hayden-Udall Treatment Plant, near South Kinney Road and the Ajo Highway.
That $80 million treatment plant, built for direct CAP treatment and delivery, has been in mothballs since 1994.
At Hayden-Udall, water is chlorinated, and its acidity is lowered, if necessary, by adding sodium hydroxide.
From there, it is mixed with pure groundwater from southern Avra Valley and is pumped to the 60-million-gallon Clearwell Reservoir in Starr Pass.
The mixed water then is pumped to its final blending point, a pump station on Technical Drive near East 22nd Street and South Alvernon Way that is at the heart of the Tucson Water distribution system. At the pump station, the water is mixed with groundwater from the utility’s other well fields and pumped to Tucson’s homes.
Come tomorrow, Tucson Water customers will be able to get real-time water quality information by visiting the utility’s website at www.ci.tucson.az.us/water/.
Net surfers will be able to locate where they are in the system, examine water quality in their neighborhood and find out about general trends across the city.
The site will provide information on eight water quality points: pH level, hardness, mineral content, and the levels of bacteria, chlorine, nitrate, fluoride and sodium.
CAP: How we got to where we are
Source: Tucson Citizen
MAP: Route of the CAP canal
Source: Tucson Citizen
MAP: CAP’S SLOW JOURNEY TO THE TAP
Source: Tucson Citizen
PHOTO CAPTIONS: VAL CANEZ/Tucson Citizen
Joaquim Delgado of Tucson Water gives Steele Elementary School students a tour of the city’s Sweetwater Wetlands water treatment plant.
Citizen file photos
Above: A stretch of the 336-mile Central Arizona Project canal, which will transport Colorado River water on the first stage of its journey into Tucson-area homes. Inset: When CAP water was introduced into Tucson homes in 1992, Tucson Water logged more than 12,000 complaints about rust-colored, foul-smelling and bad-tasting water that ruined pipes.