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.

1 comment:

Chris Brooks said...

Good news! The City council voted in favor of adopting the recommendations in the report. Now on to the hard part - making the changes it recommends.