Saturday, February 13, 2010

on-going brouhaha over water policy in the Tucson area

Anyone who has followed this blog through most of its existence will be aware that I started it during the initial stages of a local water resources study initiated by the City of Tucson and Pima County - where I live. This was a 20 month, two-phase, multi-disciplinary, multi-agency effort to catalog our existing water resources, water and wastewater infrastructure, and existing policies for managing those resources; followed by a discussion of recommended policy changes that could help ensure sustainability of those resources as this area continues to grow. Those recommendations were contained in a Phase II report that was issued in December of last year.

On Jan. 12, the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors held a joint meeting where they considered a resolution to accept the Phase II report and commit to following through on its recommendations. At that time the county voted to endorse the report but the the city, expressing reservations about the content of the report and the process of its creation, voted to continue the comment period for another 30 days then revisit the resolution.

Last week the city council (the paper incorrectly reports that the council approved the study, but all they did was agree to reconsider the resolution next week) held a study session and a public hearing on the report, which were well attended by both proponents and opponents of the report findings. Some on the city council are very concerned about recent charges that city government is unresponsive to the needs of the business community and that posture is stifling economic growth in the city. They point to the current slump in the development industry as evidence of those charges and insist that loosening up some of the regulations on development would spur this industry and restore the sort of economic growth we experienced during the years immediately preceding this current slump. This argument is preposterous (in my opinion, but I think it's a well-supported opinion) because the city policies and regulations regarding development were pretty much the same during the go-go years as they are currently AND the city has been looking at suspending a number of fees during the current slow-down.

The development folks are also pointing to a current policy (as I discussed here) recently enacted by the city to deny extension of water service to areas outside the current service area of the water utility unless there is a legal obligation to serve that area. They claim that there are many developments that would be moving forward if only the city would agree to provide water service. This is purely a bluff. There are other water providers in the area noted that could potentially provide water service (although there may be greater infrastructure needs for those utilities) if these development really were "shovel-ready", but I doubt they actually are.

This is basically a situation where our political leaders have to make a choice between serving the short-term economic needs of the community or caring for the long-term sustainability of the region. If you understand politics like I do, you'll understand why I'm worried about the prospects for full approval of the report. But they may yet surprise me. I'm hopeful that they will, but prepared to be at least a little disappointed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Give us more water ... or the aquifer gets it!

This is just priceless.

A farmer from the Central Valley of California makes the argument, in an opinion piece for the Modesto Bee, that if only the Delta restrictions could be dropped, allowing more surface water to be delivered to farms, they could stop overpumping the aquifers - resulting in subsidence, diminished water quality, and wholesale dewatering of their insurance supply.

Come on guys. Are we really supposed to be sympathetic to your plight? OK, you're behaving rationally under the circumstances because the State of California has chosen (start at p. 8) not to govern in the case of groundwater use, but you could still choose to manage the resource more wisely by setting up local governance that actually collects some data on groundwater use, sets some pumping limits, and tries to avoid some of the external costs of over-pumping. But no, this is just another lame opportunity to whine about the Delta smelt and how the little fish is harming farmers.

Time to move on.

Once again, thanks to Aquafornia for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, February 1, 2010

LA Board of Public Works calling for on-site rainwater retention

There has apparently been much talk of low-impact development (LID) standards in the Los Angeles area recently and now their public works board is calling for a new requirement that 100% of runoff from a 3/4 inch storm must be contained on-site on all new developments and some redevelopments. The plans are detailed in an LA Times article here.

Tucson has a rainwater harvesting ordinance that is aimed primarily at collecting rainwater to replace use of potable water for on-site landscape irrigation, but also has incidental effects of reducing off-drainage of stormwater. The LA proposal is strictly aimed at realization of benefits from reduced runoff.

In some respects, the LA proposal is much stricter than Tucson's ordinance because it requires containment of all water produced by a 3/4 inch rainstorm, while the Tucson ordinance requires using on-site generated rainwater for at least 50% of on-site landscaping irrigation. Tucson does have regulations about managing runoff generated by property development - and these have resulted in a few recent developments around town that manage stormwater on-site to avoid costly mitigation of runoff effects - but in most cases there is infrastructure in place to handle some or most runoff from developed property.

If LA successfully implements this change it could prove difficult to comply with. As the story notes, in some locations getting the runoff to infiltrate into the soil will be a real challenge. And a 3/4 inch rain might occur over 30 minutes or over 36 hours - with the amount of runoff generated varying greatly between the two. This definitely changes the type of development you do - how much of a lot is built on, use of underground parking (if storage of runoff is necessary) - it could get costly. As this is just a proposal at this point it will undoubtedly undergo some changes before implementation. But should be interesting to keep an eye on it.

h/t to Aquafornia for bringing the Times article to my attention.