CAP Crap Fever

Tucson Water Is Still Plotting To Shove That Ditch's Brew Down Our Throats.

By Vicki Hart

IT'S 10 P.M. Do you know where your CAP water is? In the November 1995 election, 57 percent of the voters supported Proposition 200, which banned the direct delivery of chemically treated Central Arizona Project water to Tucson homes. Today, despite the fact that Proposition 200 mandated the City of Tucson find alternative uses--such as recharge projects and irrigation--for the dismal ditch water, city officials still appear intent on shoving CAP, in some form or another, straight down our throats.

On March 17, the Tucson City Council unanimously approved a whopping $658,000 to fund something called the "Customer Focus on Water Quality Program."

According to Marie Pearthree, the program's manager, it's directed toward "consensus building, with the focus on acceptable and affordable water quality."

Currents Pearthree says the whole idea is to "involve the community," and to help it make "informed decisions" about the water. Never mind that the voters did just that when they rejected CAP in 1995.

According to Pearthree, we can all look forward to open houses and public meetings--as Tucson Water officials attempt to make us drink and obey.

The city's bureaucrats and pols have traditionally served Tucson's out-of-control Growth Lobby, a cabal of developers and industries that profit from Tucson's rapid growth.

The Growth Lobby is anxious to ensure all those new stuccoed cracker boxes going up on all that freshly bladed, irreplaceable desert land outside of town will have adequate water, as required by state law. And that means, according to their view, the rest of us must be weaned from Tucson's sweet-tasting groundwater and forced to swallow that CAP crap--originally envisioned decades ago as a boon to irrigated farms, and not fit for human consumption.

The $658,000 supposedly will also help Tucson Water perform "corrosion testing, plumbing and home appliance analysis, water disinfection analysis, water and odor testing," and--the biggie-- "reaching consensus on water quality." Silly us--we thought there was a consensus, namely that CAP water sucks.

The question arises: What part of "no" don't these pols and bureaucrats understand?

Gerald Juliani, spokesman for the Pure Water Coalition, which promoted Proposition 200, says this latest expensive move is just a packaging job for selling blended water (the mix of groundwater and CAP) to Tucsonans.

Pearthree doesn't actually admit to that charge, but she does note, "CAP water will play a role in the community."

Valerie Orstedt, a member of the Avra Valley Citizen's Committee, also believes this is a sales job for blending CAP and groundwater. She says they might do something like blend 51 percent groundwater and 49 percent CAP water so that, by the letter of the law, they could pass off the result as "groundwater."

Orstedt, who lives next to the CAP canal (See "Pumping Bile," Tucson Weekly, April 24), recalls that when Proposition 200 was brought up at a recent meeting, Tucson Water officials clearly implied the voters were uninformed and uneducated, and, in her words, "didn't understand all of the very complex issues involving water quality, treatment, recharge and delivery, and that these complex intellectual and scientific issues would be better left in the hands of the experts at Tucson Water."

So much for democracy.

We should point out these are the same "experts" who brought us CAP water in the first place, and only reluctantly did they agree to halt its delivery to irate local consumers when the scheme went sour.

CAP water woes included twice the level of total dissolved solids, resulting in the break-up of mineral deposits in existing pipes, causing many pipes to burst. It also ruined appliances; and there were questions about nitrofication--a process whereby the Chlorofine employed to kill microbes in the water gets hot, causing the chlorine and ammonia in the compound to separate, which in turn allows the ammonia to act as a fertilizer, prompting bacteria to flourish.

Oh, and did we mention the damn stuff looked awful, stunk and tasted lousy?

MEANWHILE, THE CITY Council has approved hiring a battery of consultants to propagandize Tucsonans about the desirability of CAP water.

Leading the charge--at $175 an hour--is Michael McGuire, of McGuire Environmental Consultants, who specializes in water disinfection standards.

McGuire, in turn, has brought in a Washington, D.C., firm of technical consultants called RESOLVE, which will interview local yokels to determine what kind of consensus-building process would have the greatest likelihood of success. That'll cost taxpayers a mere $228,300.

But that's not all. McGuire's former employer, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is to help with consensus on quality and cost, and also lend a hand with those troublesome taste and odor objections--all for the bargain-basement rate of $19,000. Also on board is Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., an engineering firm, which will focus on water quality and corrosion, serving both the Customer Focus on Water Quality Program and the Central Avra Valley Water Program--for $213,900.

Joining the group--for another $90,000--is the Arthur DeLittle Research Firm of Boston, which is to run consumer panels to check the water's taste and odor.

And since the DeLittle firm is apparently unable to handle the taste and odor issues all by itself, taxpayers will also be forking over another $3,000 to an I.H. Suffet from UCLA to help out.

Rounding out the "team"--for another $80,000--is the local Kaneen Advertising and Public Relations firm, which will be cranking up a "water-quality information program."

Yes, soon we'll all love Big Brother.

TUCSON WATER currently is replacing 175 miles of aging water mains, many of which were damaged by CAP water in 1992. The project is slated for completion in 2000, or five years after Proposition 200 and the year that the City Council can legally ask the voters to repeal Proposition 200.

Pearthree says there are plenty of different ways to meet the goals set by Proposition 200. She allowed that blending is one option, adding the City Council has also directed Tucson Water to look into "membrane filtration." Critics point out that's a cutting-edge technology, and there's no guarantee it would work on a large scale. It would also be extremely expensive, they add--undoubtedly far more expensive than the $200-million-plus CAP purification plant currently sitting idle west of town because it failed to work as the experts had planned.

Pearthree says the aim of her project is to have "a completely open and active dialogue" with the community, so Tucson Water can make informed decisions.

Sure, and that's probably why the pols and the Growth Lobby they serve are still quietly pushing behind the scenes to privatize Tucson Water. Apparently they're convinced all they have to do is filter the whole greasy package through enough expensive public-relations scams, and stupid Tucsonans are likely to swallow it all, including that crappy water. TW

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