Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hit the high points

There are a number of initiatives currently on-going around Tucson.  I've got my hand in two of them, have dabbled in another, and may become involved in a fourth.

1)  Way back in 2007, the city changed directions in its role as a regional water provider when the then city manager decided the city needed to have some sort of coherent policy to guide decisions to expand the service area of our water utility.  This policy change (it actually was the creation of a policy that didn't previously exist, in my opinion, because prior to that the city would provide water to anyone who asked for it and agreed to pay for the infrastructure needed to make the connection) was a huge step around here and I'm still a little surprised that it has remained in effect.  I have several other previous posts on this topic: i.e. here, here, and here.
This was just an interim policy.  The city wanted to wait for completion of the City/County Water study before implementing a final policy - which happened in mid-2010.  One of the requirements with that adoption was that the policy would be reviewed annually.  That annual review process has been underway for the last 4-5 months, coming before my subcommittee of the Citizen's Water Advisory Committee on several occasions.  After receiving feedback from the development community, the city council requested that Tucson Water staff set up a formal stakeholder process to request feedback from other sectors of the community.  That has resulted in two public meetings occurring the 2nd half of October to provide people with background on the policy and give them an opportunity to comment and suggest modifications.  After the public meetings are complete I'll post something on the likely changes to the policy - which should be fairly modest.  One change has already been made, when Mayor and Council approved changing the time that water assurance letters are valid from one year to two.  This gives a developer more time to finalize development plans and get their development underway with iron-clad assurance that they will be provided water once built-out.

2) The Safe Yield Task Force, which I wrote about briefly here, has continued chugging along.  We have revisited the main issues/recommendations that came from a similar effort a little over a decade ago (the AMAs produce a new planning document every 10 years and they usually lead to a certain amount of soul-searching within the region).  This group has been meeting almost monthly for about a year and has probably accomplished most of what it is likely to accomplish - but it hasn't accomplished what some in the group had hoped it would accomplish - deal with sub-area management issues.  That is because most of the issues addressed require regional solutions to regional problems, but sub-area management requires figuring out who is causing more localized problems and getting them to fix their own mess - unless you can get everyone to agree that we will deal with the mess as a region.  But the good outcome has been (I think) a commitment to measure and monitor what is happening in the region to get to full utilization of our renewable water supplies - which is a pretty big step.

3) The city is currently in the first part of the process to update the General Plan that is used to guide zoning and growth decisions for the next 10 years.  One of the working groups assigned the task of establishing goals to be accomplished via enumerated policies is discussing the role of water in growth decisions.  That group has a working document that was developed at the last meeting (probably the extent of my involvement) and will be further refined at their next meeting, Tuesday 10/18.

4)  When the City/County Water Study wrapped up, the intent was for the discussion to move to the regional level - incorporating all jurisdictions and major water users in the Tucson AMA.  The mantle was taken up by a group of 5 individuals representing some of the major water interests around here, calling themselves the Regional Water Assessment Taskforce.  This self-appointed group developed a pretty clever way to assess the motivation and possible methods of implementing some sort of regional effort to develop more sustainable water use practices.  Last year they convened a number of local individuals with expertise and/or influence in the use and management of water resources in a series of discussions they called "think tanks".  Which were kind of like focused internet chat rooms where everyone was talking about local water policy, guided by a set of common questions.  You can find out more about the process by reading the report on the website linked above.
After completing these discussions they compiled all the comments made into a report that tried to distill them into distinct areas of common interest.  This report was recently unveiled to the public at a well-attended meeting.  They are hoping to elicit feedback on the report and a series of recommendations they made to continue the discussion within a set of 4 regional water strategy groups - water supply, infrastructure, conservation/demand management, and reliability, sustainability and aquifer health.
It will be interesting to see if the region can sustain any momentum with this effort in the face of anemic economic growth and struggling government budgets.

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