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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson’s water a troubled current

    After 35 years of the Clean Water Act – federal legislation intended to rid the nation’s waterways of pollution – major U.S. facilities continue to pollute waterways, often exceeding their federal permits, according to an Arizona environmental group report released Thursday.

    More than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage and 240.2 million gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into U.S. waterways in 2005 alone, rendering many of the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and beaches unfit for fishing and swimming, according to “”Troubled Waters: An Analysis of 2005 Clean Water Act Compliance,”” a report generated by the Environment Arizona Research and Policy Center. The report was compiled from data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency through a Freedom of Information Act request.

    Incidences of excess water pollution reflect a dire need for funding to pay for – among other improvements – upgrades to municipal water treatment facilities and aging sewer lines in cities all around the nation, including Tucson, said Erik Magnuson, program associate at Environment Arizona, a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.

    Several Arizona facilities made the list of sites that exceeded their water pollution permits, including the Pima County Wastewater Management Department.

    In addition to persistent drought and pressure from expanding development, pollution jeopardizes Tucson’s water supply, Magnuson said.

    “”If we go out there and render the water that we do have undrinkable, that will severely add to the problem that we’re facing,”” he said.

    Pima County Wastewater Management exceeded daily caps on residual chlorine output into the Santa Cruz River in seven out of 12 months in 2005. The highest output was in December, when residual chlorine exceeded the permitted level by 1,300 percent.

    PCWM also spilled 100 percent more fecal coliform bacteria than allowed per day into the Santa Cruz River in Septtember 2005.

    Three of those overages, including the fecal coliform count, were anomalous, said Jackson Jenkins, deputy director of Pima County Wastewater Management.

    PCWM’s permit allows higher levels of residual chlorine in the city’s reclaimed water irrigation system, he said.

    The other five incidents may correspond to erroneous reporting by a technician who failed to recognize the permit variance, Jenkins said.

    Three of the incidents in the report occurred at the Ina Road Treatment Facility, which pumps “”B-plus quality water”” into the Santa Cruz River, he said.

    Warning signs posted around the pipe that drains into the Santa Cruz River caution people against exposure, but the hazard is minimal, Jenkins said.

    “”That facility has some restrictions for human contact,”” he said. “”We don’t want people drinking it, but if somebody were to touch that water, they’re not going to, you know, die from it.””

    According to the EPA Web site, “”(t)he (Clean Water) act made it illegal for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under (the EPA’s) provisions.””

    The permits, according to “”Troubled Waters,”” were intended to allow large-scale polluters time to clean up their effluent without facing harsh and immediate penalties.

    The Federal Water Pollution Control Act states that “”it is the national goal that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.”” It also states that “”it is the national policy that the discharge of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts be prohibited.””

    President Nixon signed into law the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, which, with amendments in 1977, became the Clean Water Act. Major polluters are egregiously exceeding their permits by continuing to spew toxins into U.S. waterways, according to the report.

    “”Most troubling is the sheer averages that we have here in Arizona,”” Magnuson said.

    The average violation at major facilities in Arizona was 821.6 percent above permitted discharge, ranking the state third behind New Mexico (1153.3 percent) and Vermont (822.9 percent).

    In 2005 there were 60 instances of major Arizona facilities exceeding permits by more than 500 percent, second only to California, which reported 195 such occurrences.

    The authors of the report fault the Bush administration for cutting EPA funding and for relaxing laws that protect the nation’s waterways.

    According to a Government Accountability Office report, EPA funding fell five percent between 1997-2006, after adjusting for inflation.

    Recommendations in “”Troubled Waters”” include withdrawing the January 2003 and June 2007 Bush administration policy directives that eased controls on toxic dumping, and tightening pollution limits. The authors also recommend revoking the permits of repeat offenders, in addition to tougher enforcement of fines and penalties.

    Fines are only levied against polluters in cases where the EPA deems that a permit violation actually constitutes a violation of the Clean Water Act, Magnuson said.

    “”The way that it’s being implemented now is very irresponsible in allowing very large exceedances by a very large number of facilities to go unenforced,”” Magnusen said.

    Concerned citizens should contact their congressional representative, he said, urging them to co-sponsor the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would enforce compliance with the Clean Water Act.

    “”It’s all about making that political commitment now,”” he said, “”and to say that we need to (pass the Clean Water Restoration Act), that we want to do this and that it’s Congress’ responsibility to do this – (that) is what’s really going to put us on the path (toward) achieving that goal of making all waterways fishable and swimmable.””

    By the numbers:


    PCWM spilled 100 percent more fecal coliform bacteria into the Santa Cruz River than the limit allowed in Sept. 2005.

    Number of gallons of raw sewage spilled into U.S. waterways in 2005 alone.


    The average violation at major facilities in Arizona was 821.6
    percent above permitted discharge as of Sept. 2005.

    -Statistics courtesy of Troubled Waters report

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