Flow Job 

The mayor walks on water, or is it just magic?

Mayor Bob Walkup feels the earth move under his feet and he thinks all Tucson Water customers should feel the same.

But the cheerleading for the city's water utility may be overstated even for the stridently optimistic first-term Republican.

First, it was Walkup's State of the City address in which the mayor highlighted Tucson Water for its efforts enabling the aquifer beneath the city to rise.

With emphasis cued by large type in his text, Walkup beamed that he was "proud to announce that the water table is rising under central Tucson! Twenty-six wells have been turned off in central Tucson and groundwater levels have risen up to 10 feet in some areas."

Since then, Walkup plays a chatty and equally astonished member of the audience at an magic show in a Tucson Water promotional television ad that can been seen on city Cable 12, CNN and a host of other channels.

"Ladies and Gentleman, the rising table."

The cornball spot features a skinny magician and his anorexic assistant making a table levitate. Walkup leans to his right and says to Tucson Water Director David Modeer that he's always wondered how they make the table rise.

"Oh, I can explain that Mr. Mayor," Modeer eagerly responds. "You see, Tucson Water brought 18 million gallons of new blended water to Tucson from the Clearwater facility. This let us shut down more than 25 wells in the central city. After decades of the water table dropping, our hydrologists tell us that it's now rising, up to 10 feet in some areas."

"The table is rising?" the astonished mayor asks in what obviously is not a stretch.

The spot includes a couple of smiling Tucson Water workers and a cascade of the polished-up blend of Central Arizona Project water that when first delivered a decade ago ruined pipes and home appliances in addition to bringing foul odor and taste. It was resisted by a majority of voters until Walkup made it a cornerstone of his 1999 election victory and voters gave Tucson Water permission to blend the CAP allocation.

Modeer, experienced in public relations, claims that the water table is rising for the first time in 40 years and that it will rise faster when more wells are shut down in the next year.

The spot was prepared by Tucson Water PR man Mitch Basefsky and Kaneen Advertising. But the client, in the typical manner in which the city and Tucson Water bury outside expense, was Malcolm Piernie, the engineering firm that handles the Clearwater plant.

Within Malcolm Piernie's contract are outreach and public relations components, Basefsky said. The spot cost Tucson Water customers, who are facing 4.3-percent increases in monthly water bills, $2,000.

Basefsky said the ads and information fed to Walkup for his speech are not meant to suggest that the entire water table is rising. It is rising in some areas, including near East Fifth Street and North Wilmot Road, he said.

And even Walkup concedes that some of the rise is around specific wells that have been shut off. The typical cone of depression has filled in and, Basefsky says, there has been some stabilization.

What neither the promo nor Walkup, in his annual speech, say is that some of the wells that Tucson Water claims were shut for conservation were shut because of nearby contamination.

Some of the 26 wells shut are around old, contaminated landfills. One of those, the Broadway-North landfill, is a state cleanup site and subject of a pending consent decree in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

Once part of the Pima County Sanitary District, the landfill was closed in 1968 after seven years. It has numerous toxins and carcinogens that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality wants cleaned up. It is part of the state Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund, a sort of state version of federal Superfund environmental remediation. Pima County, which officially disputes primary liability, has contributed more than $1.2 million in cash, personnel and material for the cleanup.

Basefsky said not all wells around Broadway-North are contaminated. Wells around the site have been shut down, he said, to prevent some of the contaminants from "being drawn into the water supply."

Modeer and his Tucson Water crew are seeking to shut down another 54 to 60 wells by the summer of 2003. The city has 200 production wells.

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