Archive for June 7th, 2011

7th June
written by Arizona Kid

Marana versus Pima County… the wastewater war …who will be King of the Valley?

by Hugh Holub on Jun. 06, 2011, 

From the Arizona Daily Star June 5, 2011:

Josh Brodesky: Destiny, power are at center of stink over wastewater plant

Marana, with its visions of growth, wants to build out across the valley and into neighboring Pinal County. But to control its own destiny, it must control its own sewage.

Only in Arizona can one town’s destiny be inextricably bound to sewage.

“The reason they want the plant is because in Arizona, the law is the treater of the wastewater owns the effluent,” Huckelberry told me.

And effluent has value. It can displace the use of drinkable water for irrigation. It can replenish aquifers and generate state credits. It can help to assure water supplies for the development Marana craves.


And there is lots more about this story…..

Some historical context…I was directly involved in some of this…

Back in the 1970′s there was a lawsuit between city of Tucson and Pima County Sanitary District # 1 whereby Tucson was challenging Pima’s ability to be in the sewer business outside the city limits to the northwest.

As a general rule in Arizona cities provide both water and wastewater service inside and can do this outside their city limits.

Tucson, through a series of condemnation and purchases, was headed in the direction of being the regional water provider in eastern Pima County…with as much water service area outside its city limits as inside. Tucson was building a water empire as it were.

But the control of growth density is more a function of sewer service…without a sewer system an area can only be developed at 1 home per acre or larger lots…to get 4 homes per acre you must have a sewer collection and treatment system.

Thus the northwest area was growing like mad because Pima was expanding its sewer system out there…which at the time was served by 3 private water companies–Metropolitan Water Company, Canada Hills Water Company and Rancho Vistoso Water Company.
Neither Marana or Oro Valley had taken on the role of being municipal water providers.

As noted in the Star article, under Arizona case law (John F Long case) he who owns the wastewater treatment plant owns the effluent it produces.

In 1977-79 Tucson negotiated an intergovernmental agreement with Pima (finalized in 1979) whereby Tucson turned over its sewer system inside its city limits to Pima, dropped its lawsuit against Pima Sanitary District #1, and pushed for and got an amendment to state law allowing counties (only Pima) to go into the wastewater business. No other county in the state has this authority and never will. I handled the wrap-up of the lawsuit between Tucson and Pima and wrote the language that became state law giving Pima sewer authority.

The 1979 Intergovernmental Agreement between Tucson and Pima County was concentrated on the ownership of the effluent…Tucson kept ownership and control of 90% of the effluent in Pima County wastewater treatment plants…whether the wastewater originated from Tucson Water or elsewhere.

Pima subsequently got peeved over Tucson’s control of the effluent…because Tucson was allowing large amounts of effluent to be discharged into the Santa Cruz River triggering ADEQ and EPA mandates to upgrade the Ina Road and Roger Road wastewater treatment plants at a cost of hundreds of millions….and Pima could not sell the effluent to help pay for these upgrades.

Tucson refused to budge on effluent control.

Tucson has constructed one of the country’s largest reclaimed water systems and has been moving strong for decades in reuse of effluent.

In the 1990s both Marana and Oro Valley had elections and their voters empowered the towns to go into the municipal water utility business. Marana promptly bought out the Cortaro-Marana municipal water system, and other private water companies. I represented Marana in the negotiations to buy out CMID.

Oro Valley bought Canada Hills and Rancho Vistoso Water companies. I represented the two water companies in their sale to Oro Valley.

Metropolitan Water Company was initially bought by Tucson and then they sold it to the newly formed (then) Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District.

So…by the end of the 1990′s Tucson’s ambition of being the regional water provider had been broken by Marana and OV going into the municipal water business and taking control of their water destinies. Tucson gave up a portion of its empire in the Northwest Area when it sold Met Water to the district.

Meanwhile Tucson had gotten control of the Continental Ranch water service area and agreed to serve what is now called Dive Mountain…both now inside Marana’s town limits.

Marana has been fussing with Tucson in an effort to buy out Tucson’s Continental Ranch and Dove Mountain water systems so Marana can control all water service inside its town limits…and Tucson has fought this. Similar issue…how much does Marana pay for system which were built with money from developers…not Tucson ratepayers.

Legally Marana has the authority to condemn Tucson Water’s utility systems inside Marana’s town limits.

Back to Pima….there are lots of frustrations with Pima’s decisions about wastewater plant locations and effluent access. For example, in Vail that development wanted its own wastewater treatment plant in Vail so the effluent could be used to irrigate the golf course there. Pima County said no and forced the developer to connect Vail to the regional system…thus wastewater from Vail ends up at the Pima treatment plants on the northwest side of Tucson under Tucson’s control.

In Sahuarita Pima County demanded that wastewater from that project (Rancho Sahuarita) be put in a pipe through or around the San Xavier Indian Reservation so that effluent would also end up on the northwest side of Tucson and under Tucson’s control.

Sahuarita fought this and managed to get an EPA 208 plan amendment and went into the sewer business…the only city or town in Pima that has this authority.
Sahuarita is now moving towards an election to empower that town to be in the municipal water business and buy out Rancho Sahuarita water company. If that happens Sahuarita will be the first town in Pima with both control over water and wastewater. Obviously Marana is headed in the same direction and you can bet OV will follow.

Note…it is the norm in Arizona for cities and towns to have their own wastewater systems…Pima is the exception.

Efluent is hugely important as a water resource..either as a substitute for potable water use on golf courses or as a source of groundwater replenishment credits.

In Prescott Valley that town sold off its effluent recharge credits and raised $20 million or so to fund its wastewater treatment plant.

There are 2 sources of renewable water here…CAP and effluent.

He who controls wastewater and effluent controls growth.

Thus we have Tucson controlling effluent for its benefit and Pima controlling wastewater plant and sewer system access inside other jurisdictions…this is not the norm in Arizona.

Both Pima and Tucson have visions of being in control of growth and development in eastern Pima County…and attack Marana, OV and Sahuarita because these areas are competing with Tucson and Pima over growth control.
While there are obviously political interests behind both the Pima government and city of Tucson about growth control…this is a jurisdictional war with the emerging towns. Put directly…Tucson and Pima and residents of neighborhood activists in central Tucson are never going to control the destiny of the surround area outside Tucson’s city limits. That is precisely why new towns get formed…so local residents control their future…not someone else far away.

We’re about 20-30 years behind what happened in Maricopa county with the emergence of strong satellite cities around Phoenix which had their own water and wastewater control, annexed a lot of land for growth, and built Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler…etc into powerhouse communities in their own right. By 2020 one or two of the Phoenmix satellite cities will have more people than city of Tucson.

Besides the water and wastewater fights there is athird one been going on for a long time…incorporation of new towns outside Tucson…Tucson has had a state law based 6 mile “kill zone” in which they could block incorporation of new towns. Tucson has always fought against creation of new towns on its edge.
Years ago legislation was passed (at the urging of Pima County interestingly) to open the door to new town creation here…but the courts shot that down at Tucson’s urging.

New legislation was passed last session to remove the 6 mile kill zone so Vail and several other new towns could incorporate on the fringes of Tucson…besides Vail think Catalina Foothills, the Northwest area, Drexel Heights., Picture Rocks…Corona de Tucson….

Interesting the existing towns all have ambitious annexation plans and probably land on Tucson’s side of not wanting it to be too easy for new towns to incorporate.
But there is not an alliance between Tucson and the existing towns because Tucson took Pima’s side in the wastewater/effluent fight and blocked the PAG 208 plan amendment for Marana to be in the wastewater business.
Instead of creating the obvious alliance of southern Arizona cities and towns to look out for municipal interests…Tucson has gone its own strange way thinking it is the only city in the region and fighting against all the other cities and towns.

One of these days Tucson is going to finally figure out that trying to control effluent originating from Oro Valley, Marana and Green Valley/Sahuarita is not worth the political damage at the state lkevelst and take the side of the existing towns and unite to bust Pima County out of the growth control business. Tucson needs to side with Marana to and break up Pima’s regional wastewater deal in favor of town control. The only question is when that finally happens.

There are lots of interesting side effects to this fight… we have more people living in unincorporated areas of Pima than Maricopa county does…and as a consequence the cities and towns here do not get as much state revenue share as do valley cities. Pima has tried many times to get an urban allocation of state revenue share for the unincorporated areas here and failed…because the state-wide municipal interests see what happened here as an aberration and will never change state law. Instead the state response is to try and figure out a way to allow more new towns to incorporate. here.

I anticipate eventually a change in annexation laws to make it easier for existing cities and towns here to annex the surrounding urbanized areas. For example, whever a city or town is providing water service to an unincorporated area it can automatically annex that area, or charge double the water rates and connection fees. If anyone wants out…they would have to have 50% of the voters to sign and 51% of the property owners by number and valuation….that’s my guess based on a fire district de-annexation law.

Pima’s record for wastewater plant siting…and the loss of effluent from the non-city of Tucson sources…is a major problem and the towns are dug in to get that control.

And there are lots of nuances about “cost”….people in Green Valley pay a regional rate for connections to the sewer system and for user fees treatment even though they are served by a primitive lagoon system…not a huge new plant…so they are subsidizing Tucson and other Pima residents.

And if the bulk of all new wastewater treatment capacity is being funded from connection fees (these are impact fees) and not from sewer user fees…Pima’s argument fails in Marana. Pima’s sewer users did not pay…the developers did.

And so what if sewer connection fees in the surrounding towns ends up higher than what Pima charges…a claim Pima makes to oppose Marana.
So what if Pima’s fees have to go up because they lost the ability to charge new development in Marana or Green Valley for the cost of upgrading the Roger Road WWTP and Pima’s fees increase? Growth must pay for itself whatever the cost.
Indeed probably over all costs will increase to new development in Pima as well as in the towns if they are in the wastewater business…so what?
The homebuilders won’t like this…but taxpayers and ratepayers should love this.

The real deal is control of the effluent for renewable water supplies…Pima does not control the effluent…Tucson does…and no one is going to let Tucson control effluent originating with town water utilities.
Tucson needs to quit aiding and abetting Chuck Huckelberry’s growth management kingdom and start thinking like a city…and recognize its future lies in working with surround cities and towns.
Huckelberry has turned into a self-appointed growth control czar and actually counties should have very little to do with growth management as this is why we have cities and towns.
That will probably happen when Rio Nuevo builds a new convention hotel downtown or when the next ice Age begins…whichever comes first.

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