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Cunningham: Face drought with water policies that reinforce conservation ethic
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Cunningham: Face drought with water policies that reinforce conservation ethic

  • The Central Arizona Project's 336 mile canal - the longest aqueduct in the United States - diverts water from the Colorado River to serve 1 million acres of irrigated agricultural land in Central Arizona and to provide municipal water to Phoenix and Tucson.
    U.S. Bureau of ReclamationThe Central Arizona Project's 336 mile canal - the longest aqueduct in the United States - diverts water from the Colorado River to serve 1 million acres of irrigated agricultural land in Central Arizona and to provide municipal water to Phoenix and Tucson.

We've all seen the news coming out of California. The governor there has imposed restrictions on all 400 water agencies that serve that state and mandated a 25 percent cut in urban water usage.

The recent drought, which has affected us as well, is the prime reason given for this drastic measure. It's worth remembering, however, that some of the largest communities in California are built in deserts. The drought would have likely caused issues in any case, but we also need to ask what would have happened if those places had been working on conserving water all these years.

What we are seeing across the state line is exactly what I'd like to prevent here. We are just as water-poor as most of the communities that are having restrictions in California. So, what's the difference? Here in Tucson, we have a strong conservation ethic, and one of my goals as a councilman is to make sure our water policies reflect and reinforce that.

To that end, the Citizens' Water Advisory Committee made a set of recommendations to us to change our rate structure. Our water rates have not been strictly on a one-to-one basis, but instead, Tucson Water charges more per unit of water for households that use more water. They do this by grouping users into four blocks based on usage. The CWAC proposal changes the blocks.

Block one, the block which encompassed nearly three-quarters of residential users, had been defined as users of less than 10 ccf per month (a ccf is 100 cubic feet, or roughly 750 gallons). CWAC considered seven ccf, which is the average water use during the winter, to be a more natural cutoff. Seven ccf would cover indoor water use for the average Tucson Water customer.

This puts about a third of customers in block two, which ranges from eight to 15 ccf.

The aim here is not only to encourage conservation, but also to cover the increasing costs of water delivery. A number that isn't brought up much is $15.3 million, which is how much Tucson Water pays in energy costs to deliver water to Tucson. Those costs end up on our bills.

Even with all of that, water in Tucson's water rates are incredibly competitive. We pay less than the average and less than most other communities in Arizona (including cooler weather places like Flagstaff). The average Tucson Water user pays a bit more than half of what our neighbors using Metro Water pay, and far less than a user in Mesa pays. With these changes, a gallon of water will cost a bit more than a third of a cent. Furthermore, lower income users will remain eligible for assistance.

What I would most like to avoid are the mandatory restrictions our friends in California are dealing with right now. If minor changes in our billing policy will keep that from happening, I think it's a price worth paying. In the end, without responsible water policy in Tucson, there is no Tucson.

CWAC and Tucson Water will be holding town halls on the new rates: April 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Quincie Douglas Library, 1585 E. 36th St., and April 16, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the William Clements Recreation Center, 8155 E Poinciana Dr. The proposed rates will come to me and my colleagues on May 19.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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