November 2 - November 8, 1995


Hose Job

To The Editor,
The Weekly loves prop 200 ("Star Drips," by Rich Wiersma, Tucson Weekly, October 12) but there are a couple of things you keep leaving out. Read on and get the rest of the story.

A lot of people are really mad about CAP water. They want to get even, hold a gun to Tucson Water's head. That's not surprising, and not even necessarily a bad idea. But this gun may be aimed at our own foot.

The drafters of Prop 200 started out with a pretty good idea. Force the city to make sure CAP water is OK before they put it in the pipes. Get serious about recharge. Get moving on trades to other users, agriculture and the mines. Sounds good.

Unfortunately, they did more than that. They got carried away and wrote a whole new set of standards for CAP water and for groundwater, new standards that don't have anything to do with health, or taste, or odor, or anything else. They decided everything about our water supply had to be perfect. That's a tall order in a desert town. And CAP or no, this is still a desert.

The new standards bring two big problems--a short-term water supply problem and a long-term money problem.

The short-term problem first. I hate to be the one to break the news, but not all of our groundwater is pristine. Nature put stuff in some of it that's not good for you. Some of it is harder and has more salts than CAP water. And we have polluted some of it. We can use this water, but we have to treat it first. Prop 200 says if it ain't perfect when it comes out of the ground, cap that well and forget it.

This creates a big problem for next summer. Prop 200 shuts off about 10 percent of the Tucson water system, right now. Nothing harmful has ever been detected in this water after treatment. We already have a gap between supply and demand on those 115-degree days. Prop 200 more than doubles the gap. Firefighting capacity has to be maintained in reservoirs, even if that means shutting off service to you, maybe only for a few hours a day. And no outside water use. But not to worry, in a couple of years we can dig enough new wells (providing they yield perfect water) to replace the loss. (Water tip: If Prop 200 passes, build a cistern to store water and save your trees).

The new standard for CAP water is one that gets you in the pocketbook. CAP water can't be delivered to you until it's treated to be better than the groundwater that most of you are drinking now. Why better? This idea is a black hole for money, if it's even possible. No community anywhere is treating water on this scale to this level. Tucson will get to go first and try it out.

Strangest of all, this pro-recharge proposition prohibits injection recharge of CAP into aquifers unless it's treated to be better than the water in the aquifer.

And now, a public service message on chemical treatment: Chemical treatment is used all over the world to prevent the spread of diseases, like typhoid and cholera. Most our groundwater is chemically treated to protect you from harmful bacteria. (Sorry to burst your bubble). Bottled water is chemically treated to kill bacteria. Don't drink the water in places that do not chemically treat their water supply. That's how you get typhoid.

But how to make the city do recharge, trade water to farms and all that other good stuff? They already got the message and it's already happening. Over 10,000 acre feet of CAP water is going to farms in Marana, saving groundwater. Recharge projects totaling 25,000 acre feet are moving forward--construction will begin next year on the largest project. We don't need to shut off part of our groundwater system to make this happen.

How did this basically good idea get so crazy? Another thing The Weekly didn't tell you may explain it. The man who takes all the credit for Prop 200 is our very own ED MOORE. (Did Big Ed ever take partial credit?) That's right, this whole thing is another Ed Moore scheme. Step out from behind the curtain, Ed, and take a bow.

That's the rest of the story. If you're still ready to go for this latest Ed Moore scheme, get started on that cistern.

The Arizona Daily Star will be printing a pro and con on a Sunday soon. Watch for it. They print the whole story.
--Priscilla Robinson
Tucson Groundwater Users Advisory Committee

Rich Wiersma replies: Priscilla Robinson is the one who needs to "come out from behind the curtain." She's a longtime, paid PR figure for Tucson Water. She opposed recharge in the 1987 election and endorsed what became the cracked and leaking chemical treatment plant. Thus, she's one of the major players responsible for the corrosive, chemical soup that entered our homes.

The Tucson Groundwater Users Advisory Committee which she chairs is dominated by land speculators and the staff of Tucson Water. Her committee's members were hand-picked by bureaucrats from Gov. J. Fife Symington III's state Department of Water Resources. The apparent goal of this committee is to get the chemical treatment plant turned back on. That would justify building a $100-million reservoir to supply water to the chemical treatment plant when the CAP canal is unable to deliver water. Incidentally, the owner of the proposed reservoir site who stands to profit from this land deal is a prominent developer who raised a large sum of money for Symington's campaign.

In her arguments, Robinson tries to seduce readers into believing Proposition 200 will empty our faucets, bankrupt the city and cause typhoid. These arguments are as ridiculous as Chicken Little flapping its wings and warning, "The sky is falling!"

First, Tucson has an ample water supply. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, our underground reservoirs hold a supply of water comparable to the combined amount stored in lakes Powell and Mead! Balancing recharge and withdrawal via Proposition 200 would allow us to use groundwater indefinitely. If Tucson Water can't keep up with demand because they've neglected the well field and squandered money on the failed chemical treatment plant, then officials need to be held accountable for their failure. Competent administrators can be hired at the inflated salaries being paid the current staff.

The assertion that Prop 200 will bankrupt Tucson also is ludicrous. If CAP water is recharged, nature purifies and stores it for free. Costly chemical treatment and the resulting chemical soup is avoided. Robinson deceitfully tries to add the cost of a membrane filtration plant to Prop 200 when nowhere in the plan is that called for. The idea for the proposed $500-million filtration plant that would bankrupt the city comes from Mayor George Miller.

Robinson's suggestion that Prop 200 will cause typhoid and cholera is news to healthcare professionals, who indicate these pathogens are not found in deep groundwater. Can she provide evidence for even one case of a water-borne infection originating from groundwater in Tucson? Contrast that with the many Tucsonans who experienced health problems from using chemically treated CAP water during the short time the treatment plant was on line.

Contrary to Robinson's statements, Tucson groundwater does not require disinfecting, a process which is necessary only if groundwater is exposed to air when stored in pipes and reservoirs. Furthermore, Prop 200 does not preclude disinfecting the distribution system on an as-needed basis. Disinfecting after recharge will not produce carcinogens.

Finally, Pima County Supervisor Ed Moore has been helpful to the Prop 200 effort. But so have politicos such as John Kromko and Molly McKasson, who has been a bastion of common sense on the city council. For Robinson to give all credit for Prop 200 to Moore is a profound insult to hundreds of volunteers who've donated thousands of hours and dollars to the cause of clean water in Tucson.

Much can be learned about an issue by observing its friends and enemies. I'm proud Prop 200 includes among its friends the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson. Government bureaucrats, paid consultants and "fat cats" are its chief opposition.

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November 2 - November 8, 1995

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