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Posts Tagged ‘Tucson Water’

4th February
written by Land Lawyer

An interesting opinion came out in this weeks Inside Tucson Business. The guest editorial shares a unique perspective of how Tucson Water and Pima County Waste Water has created policies that perpetuate the large percentage of unincorporated areas in our region. Pima County has 36% of its population is unincorporated, Maricopa County has 6%. The loss in state shared revenues is costing our region dearly.

Tucson Water is refusing to add new water connections outside the Tucson city limits. The city is also considering raising water connection fees.

It is about time Tucson started paying attention to the relationship of its water utility and growth in the region.

Since the 1960s Tucson sought to monopolize water service in eastern Pima County as a water management effort. To that end, Tucson extended its water utility service throughout the Catalina Foothills and into the northwest. The result is more than 100,000 people living in those areas are getting water from Tucson, but refuse to be annexed into the city.

More people live in unincorporated areas of Pima County than live in such areas in Maricopa County, which has four times the population. Tucson’s water policies had a lot to do with that result.

This has a massive negative impact on state revenue-sharing for Tucson because  only incorporated cities and towns get the lion’s share of that money. Thus, the residents of the unincorporated areas of Pima County cost the region millions of dollars annually because they don’t want to be in a city or town.

Little of the population in Maricopa County lives outside the limits of a municipality. The primary reason for this is no city or town in Maricopa County would extend its water and sewer system service to new developments outside their incorporated limits without the development signing an annexation petition.

Maricopa County has a fraction of the budget liabilities for roads and police protection, compared to Pima County, which has to provide urban services to people outside city limits.

Tucson, on the other hand, extended its water service without the condition of annexation condition. It also turned over all of the sewer system to Pima County. In fact, Pima is the only county in Arizona providing sewer service and, as a result, tools were abandoned to insure urban residents were inside the incorporated limits.

Not surprisingly, we have seen a proliferation of new municiaplities around Tucson. Marana and Oro Valley have stepped up and are attempting to control water utility service in their jurisdictions. The town of Sahuarita already has its own sewer system, the only municipality in Pima County with one.

While Tucson has generally fought the incorporation of new towns and Pima County seeks to block towns having their own sewer systems, a fundamental change is needed in the region regarding water and sewer service.

1. Tucson needs to resolve its fight with the towns over water service, and get out of providing water in places like Marana. Let Marana go find the renewable water needed for its growth and charge appropriately for new connections. Tucson Water could then redirect its valuable resources to growth inside the Tucson city limits.

2. Let Marana have its own sewer system and if Oro Valley wants into the sewer utility business, let them have at it. Tucson ought to take back its sewer system as well. The cities and towns could hire Pima County to manage their sewer systems, but Pima County absolutely should not be allowed to control growth inside the incorporated limits of cities and towns via sewer system policies. This way, towns would have to establish fees to cover the cost of growth in their areas and the rest of Pima County would not have to subsidize their growth.

3. Tucson ought to negotiate “sphere of influence” agreements with surrounding towns delineating which jurisdiction has precedence for annexation. These “spheres of influence” should exactly match water and sewer service areas of the cities and towns.

These are the first steps to ending the wars that have been going on between Tucson and the surrounding area over water.

Contact Hugh Holub at HughHolub@msn.com. Holub, who has specialized in water issues, calls himself a semi-retired lawyer.

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