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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Want to promote wild mismanagement of water resources? Then vote ‘yes’ on Prop. 200

    Lauren Myers columnist
    Lauren Myers
    columnist

    Tucson is a desert city, which means we perennially confront one important issue: water. In this year’s election cycle, voters will decide on Proposition 200, a ballot initiative that ostensibly seeks to conserve Tucson’s water. Unfortunately, this initiative is a poorly conceived fiasco that will cause more damage to our city than it prevents.

    Prop. 200 is a beast of an initiative that tries to accomplish too much at once and ends up accomplishing nothing at all. Its principal goals are to repeal the city’s $14-a-month garbage collection fee, prohibit treated effluent from being blended with drinking water, cap new connections to the current Tucson Water system and prohibit the city from sharing water with other local and regional providers. Several of these goals are, in principle, great ideas. After all, who wants to drink effluent? However, Prop. 200 addresses its goals in incredibly ineffective, counterproductive ways.

    The first item addressed by the initiative is the city’s garbage collection fee, which appears on Tucson Water’s monthly statements. Although the fee itself is controversial, the initiative not only repeals the fee but also prohibits the city from raising sales taxes, reducing waste services or privatizing any part of the utility to offset this loss of funds. But $24 million can’t evaporate from the city budget without consequences. Since the fee was designed to free up general funds for police, firefighters and road improvements, these services are likely to face the first cuts if Prop. 200 passes. Anyone who has to drive on Tucson’s pothole-infested streets (or down I-10 lately) knows that the last thing we need is less money for road construction.

    A second major goal of the initiative is to prohibit the city from recycling treated waste water as drinking water. The public is justifiably revolted by the specter of “”toilet-to-tap”” water; however, under state law the city is already prohibited from delivering effluent as drinking water.

    Unfortunately, besides being redundant and useless, this section of the initiative will also hinder conservation efforts. According to the text of the proposition, effluent must be disposed of or used only for irrigation. This means that businesses that currently use waste water for a variety of commercial and industrial purposes will have to switch to using drinking water – placing even more demand on Tucson’s supply of clean, potable water.

    One of the most important sections of the proposition will prohibit new connections to the Tucson Water system once water deliveries reach 140,000 acre-feet per year. This cap is a totally arbitrary number. Tucson’s 100-year Assured Water Supply (a figure determined by the state government) is 184,000 acre-feet per year. Thus, the initiative will prevent Tucson Water from delivering 44,000 acre-feet of reliable, renewable water each year – that’s over 14.3 billion gallons of water rendered inaccessible. The stunning illogic of this arbitrary rule will seriously hamper efforts to manage our city’s growth.

    Perhaps most dangerously, this section of Prop. 200 will promote water mismanagement and urban sprawl. Under state law, builders can become their own water providers by moving outside the Tucson Water service area and sinking wells into the groundwater aquifer. Thus, once new connections to Tucson Water are capped, development will be forced to the outskirts of the city and place huge stress on the aquifer, instead of using renewable water delivered from the Central Arizona Project. Ironically, in the name of conservation, Prop. 200 actually promotes urban sprawl, potentially damaging the environment and straining the city’s over-burdened infrastructure.

    Finally, the proposition will prohibit Tucson Water from sharing its resources with other regional water providers. Our city government currently has a web of water-sharing agreements, in which both parties agree to share their resources if one provider experiences an emergency. Prop. 200 would cut off this support after 10 days – no exceptions. This tears Tucson out of a regional support network that includes Marana, Oro Valley, University Medical Center, the VA hospital and our very own UA campus, among others. This is a nasty, unneighborly and selfish way to manage resources. It will set a truly appalling precedent for the region if Tucson adopts a resource management model that promotes conflict over cooperation.

    Although Proposition 200 addresses important water-related issues confronting our city and region, it does so in a dangerously counterproductive fashion. Tucson can’t afford to pass this poorly conceived, multi-tentacled beast of an initiative that comes disguised in conservationists’ clothing. When elections roll around this November, protect our city’s water resources by voting “”no”” on Proposition 200.

    Lauren Myers is a sophomore majoring in math and microbiology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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