Marana gets closer to owning its own wastewater systemby Hugh Holub on Apr. 08, 2011, under environment water and energy, politics
From the Arizona Daily Star April 8, 2011:
PHOENIX – State lawmakers voted Thursday to let Marana wrest control of a sewage treatment plant from Pima County.
SB 1171, given preliminary House approval, would give the rapidly growing community the unilateral authority to purchase the plant whether the county wants to sell it or not. It does not require the town to pay the fair value of the plant, only to pay off any remaining debt.
The legislation, which already has Senate OK, would overrule a court ruling which has so far thwarted Marana’s efforts. Only a final roll-call vote remains before the measure goes to the governor.
“This is about local control,” argued Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson.
Marana made a giant step towards gaining control of the wastewater system that serves the northn Pima County town with the Arizona House of Representatives green lighting a bill that will let the town take over the sewer system from Pima County.
In a related story, the Star reports that under Marana contrtol, their wastewater user charges and connections fees won’t be mnuch different that Pima County’s:
Marana officials announced last week the rates the town plans to charge for its wastewater services if it gets permission to act as its own sewer company.
The town has been locked in a battle with Pima County for a few years over whether it has that right and over ownership of wastewater infrastructure located within the town.
A senate bill is making its way through the Legislature that could resolve much of what remains in dispute. In the meantime, the town is working with the Pima Association of Governments – which is responsible for local wastewater planning – on an amendment that would allow Marana to become the third designated management agency for wastewater in Pima County.
The county and Sahuarita are the other two.
As part of the amendment process, PAG held a public hearing March 30 at the Marana Municipal Complex where the town outlined its plans and PAG took public comment on them.
For background on the fuss between Marana and Pima County…
Fecal fight flares…battle goes on between Marana and Pima County over wastewater (February 13, 2011)
The Star had a report about the Town of Marana’s efforts to get control of its wastewater treatment system away from Pima County…
…The bill would allow any town or city to “acquire all or any portion of a sewage system located within or serving the city or town and owned or operated by a county,” as long as the voters in the city or town approve it, at least 75 percent of the sewage treated there is generated from within the city or town, and the municipality pays the county for any outstanding debt on the treatment plant.
So you are asking yourself “why do I care if Marana and Pima County are fighting over who owns a wastewater treatment plant in Marana?”
According to the Star story, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said allowing any municipality to have part of the regional wastewater system would cost all customers more in their sewer bills.
But there’s a lot more to this story.
Pima County is the only county in Arizona with state law authority to own and operate wastewater treatment plants.
In the rest of the state, wastewater plants are mostly owned and operated by cities and towns with a few private companies serving areas and which are regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).
The ACC has no state constitutional authority to regulate utilities such as wastewater owned and operated by cities and towns (or counties for that matter).
Prior to 1979 the City of Tucson owned and operated its own wastewater utility serving the city, and treated wastewater at its Roger Road WWTP which is famous for its smell.
Pima County had a sewer district in the northwest area up along Oracle Road and Tucson challenged Pima’s authority to offer sewer service.
Tucson and Pima settled their dispute with an infamous 1979 Intergovernmental Agreement wherein Tucson handed over its sewer system and treatment plant to Pima, agreed to let Pima be the regional sewer provider, and Tucson kept 90% of the effluent from all sewage treatment plants owned by Pima County…even if the sewage did not come from Tucson’s water service area.
This was sort of like Russia and Germany carving up Poland in 1939.
Tucson got legislation introduced into the state legislature giving Pima authority to own and operate wastewater systems.
One of the concepts back in those days was Tucson was hell bent to be the regional water utility in the metro area, having bought out many of the private water companies within and without Tucson’s city limits.
By 1979 Tucson had water customers all over the Catalina Foothills, and as far south as Corona de Tucson…miles from its city limits.
A good argument can be made that Tucson’s pursuit of water empire fueled the suburban sprawl outside its city limits.
Pima County, armed with unilateral wastewater authority, unleashed a wave of growth in the Northwest Area…north of River Road, west of Oracle Road out to the Pinal County line. About one third of all metro Tucsonans live in this area.
In the rest of Arizona, especially in Maricopa County, both water and waster are run by their cities and towns. If you were a developer with land outside of the city limits of Phoenix, Mesas, Tempe or whatever and you needed water and sewer service for your subdivision, you had to annex your land into the city or town providing the water and sewer service.
In Pima County a new subdivision outside Tucson’s city limits could get water service from Tucson and sewer service from Pima County. Cities and towns could not force new growth inside city or town incorporated limits.
The result is there are more people living in the unincorporated area of Pima County ( maybe 300,000 out of a total population 1 million) than in Maricopa County(maybe 200,000 out of a population 4 million). State revenue share is based on population inside a city or town….so Pima residents get screwed.
But this was all done in the name of regional management of water and wastewater.
Then along came Marana which incorporated as a town and many years later its voters authorized Marana to be in the water utility business. Ever since Marana has been busy buying up water companies inside its jurisdiction, and trying to oust Tucson Water from serving water inside Marana.
Not a lot of love is lost historically between Marana and Tucson since Marana was originally incorporated to protect Marana area farmers from having their water stolen by Tucson. Tucson had already bought some 20,000 acres of farms in the Avra Valley to mine groundwater from that valley to feed Tucson’s growth (our local version of the movie “China Town”).
Under the more modern 100 year assured water supply and water management goals imposed in this state after 1980, effluent has become a very important source of renewable water.
Under the 1979 IGA between Tucson and Pima, Pima controls the effluent…even if it originates from Marana’s water utility. Pima has some effluent control…but the effluent ends up running down the Santa Cruz River creating endangered species fish habitat and recharging the aquifer of Pinal County.
Under no rational analysis can Pima’s management of effluent and placement of its wastewater treatment plants be viewed as having anything to do with good water management. Pima scuttled a plan to have a wastewater treatment plant in Vail so effluent from Vail could be re-used in Vail. Instead, effluent from Vail ends up in the Santa Cruz River north of Pima’s Ina Road wastewater treatment plant some 40 miles away.
Pima also wanted wastewater from Sahuarita to flow into the regional treatment system at Roger and Ina Road, denying Sahuarita the ability to beneficially use effluent in the same area water was pumped. Sahuarita got authority to have its own wastewater system…the only city or town in Pima County that has that authority (remember the norm in Arizona is for cities and towns to provide wastewater collecion and treatment and no other county in the state can do this).
Marana comes along and sues Pima over a wastewater treatment plant located in Marana treating sewage which originates from Marana’s water utility. Marana argued that the wastewater plant was in Marana and thus Marana had the right to own like in the same way when Marana annexes a road owned by Pima, the road ends up belonging to Marana. Pima fought this in court and Marana lost.
So Marana went to the court of higher resort in Arizona…the state legislature, and got a bill (SB 1171) passed by the State Senate the other day giving Marana the ability to oust Pima County from control of the wastewater treatment plant in Marana. Marana would have to pay whatever the remaining debt is on the plant.
Pima wants fair market value which it claimed inb the Star story was an Arizona Corporation Commission requirement. Hucklberry needs to talk to his lawyer about this because he is flat wrong. The only time a municipality has to pay fair market value for utility property is when it condemns that property…and that is not ACC law but state law…and that only applies to privately owned utility assets. Not something taxpayers already own.
The primary reason Marana wants control of that wastewater treatment plant is they want control of the effluent…which is something every city and town with a water utility and a wastewater utility has in this state…outside Pima.
Pima’s Huckelberry is whining that breakup of its regional wastewater system will be bad for everyone else because it might cost more to other Pima residents if Marana goes it alone. Fewer residents served by Pima’ssystem…divide the same cost by fewer residents equalling high sewer rates. This argument presumes there would not be new sewer customers outside of Marana in Pima’s service area.
Huckleberry also argues new customers hooking up to Pima’s regional system will pay more because they are very costly (because Pima is providing fish habitat) , and fewer connection (having lost Marana’s growth) means new development in the rest of the county will pay more.
Like does anyone care if new development in Pima County has to pay more for Pima’s wastewater treatment capacity?
The argument Pima makes leaves some things out.
Pima is spending upwards of $240 million on ts big treatment plants along the Santa Cruz River because the effluent is ending up in the Santa Cruz River and triggering very strict water quality standards to protect fish in that river.
Other wastewater treatment entities figured out discharging effluent into rivers was not smart because the beneficial reuse of the effluent was lost…like being able to deny new golf courses access to municipal potable water service and forcing the golf courses to use treated effluent.
Once one is discharging effluent to a river…it is likely environmental groups would claim removing the effluent for other uses is destroying endangered species habitat…and thus Pima is probably never going to be able to remove the effluent it dumps into the river to recharge or other beneficial uses. And Pima doesn’t need recharge credits because it is not a water provider and has no authority whatsoever to be in the water utility business.
If there was anything most Tucsonans could agree on it is that golf courses should never be allowed access to potable water supplies and even existing golf courses should be forced to switch to treated effluent.
Pima is spending $240 million of Pima’s sewer users money to improve fish habitat.
Marana can’t enforce a requirement to use only effluent on a golf course inside its town boundaries because Pima owns the wastewater treatment plant and as a consequence owns the effluent (note under Arizona law he who owns a wastewater plant owns the effluent it produces)…except…because of the 1979 IGA with Tucson…Pima gives significant control of that effluent to Tucson.
The Marana treatment plant does not discharge to the river and thus it is not encumbered with fish habitat protection. That treatment plant’s effluent is available for recharge and for non-potable industrial and irrigation uses.
Beginning to understand why the 1979 IGA between Tucson and Pima smells like the Roger Road wastewater treatment plant?
Pima is justly worried that if the Marana legislation passes, it is going to have other problems in the region.
It should take about one second for Sahuarita to go after Pima County’s wastewater treatment plant that serves Green Valley for the same reasons as Marana…control of effluent is crucial for good water resource management.
And Oro Valley has long wanted effluent access and control for its purposes.
Effluent is a hugely important future water resource in the region….it is a potential recharge water source and it is really valuable for new uses that can be shifted away from potable water like industrial uses, golf courses, and outdoor irrigation.
In Prescott Valley, that town sold its effluent recharge rights to new development to provide an assured water supply for something like $20,000 an acre foot.
It is just contrary to good local water management to have Pima going in one direction and actually working against Tucson and surrounding towns.
One of the biggest mistakes Tucson made was getting out of its wastewater treatment business and turning that over to Pima…losing a huge annexation card in the process. Tucson did keep control of effluent…but not just its own…but effluent from the water supplies of its neighbors. Not good.
State Sen. Frank Antenori and state Rep. Vic Williams are two of the nine Southern Arizona legislators who sponsored the Marana wastewater takeover bill.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.
Huckelberryand his radical environmental board of supervisors may discover that they have few friends on the House side of the State Capitol.
[Note: From 1974 to 1978 I was an assistant city attorney for Tucson involved in water issues and I actually wrote the language adopted by the state legislature giving Pima County wastewater authority...one of my bigger mistakes of my career. I did some work for Pima on federal water quality Clean Water Act issues fighting the EPA requirements to spend millions to create happy fish habitat and then represented Marana in its quest to gain water utility authority and buy out the private utilities and irrigation district that served development in that town.]