U.S. Water News Online
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Eight years ago, Tucson began piping
Colorado River water to 84,000 homes instead of the groundwater
everyone was accustomed to. It didn't go well.
The brownish, brackish, foul-smelling rusty stuff that poured out
of many taps infuriated customers, corroded water pipes and gave city
officials a headache.
Next spring, after years of water wars, the city's water utility
will again start serving up Colorado River water delivered via the
Central Arizona Project. But this time it will be blended with
groundwater in what officials believe will be the right mix to slake
the city's thirst.
The goal: to help ease groundwater overpumping that has
dramatically lowered the aquifer that is the city's main water
source. Tucson is one of the largest cities in the country solely
reliant upon groundwater, and in some parts of its central wellfield,
the water table has plummeted 200 feet since the 1940s.
``The intent is to put a large portion of our central wellfield
wells in an off position for much of the year,'' except for
emergencies and summer peaks, Tucson Water Director David Modeer
Customers use an average of 101 million gallons a day.
The first phase will deliver 18 million gallons of CAP water
daily, combined with 83 million gallons of groundwater. The CAP
portion will increase to 36 million gallons a day in 2002 and 54
million gallons daily by 2003, with the groundwater portion lessening
``By 2003, it ends up providing 53 percent of our average annual
customer water demand,'' said Marie Pearthree, Tucson Water's deputy
Pearthree and Modeer are confident it won't cause any problems,
and that customers will like the taste.
The key this time around is that the water will be blended rather
than delivered full-jolt -- which voters outlawed in 1995,
restricting Tucson Water from directly treating and delivering CAP
water. Last year, voters rejected further restrictions, opting
instead to allow blending.
But some who had a bad first encounter with the CAP water think
the second round might be a hard sell.
``They're going to have difficulty convincing people, at least
ones who were involved the first time,'' said Ginger Miller, a nurse
who lives midtown.
``The water that came out of the faucet was brown. And in the
shower it had a terrible odor,'' she said. It gave her and her
daughter rashes. Only by installing a full-house filter on the water
line outside their home did she and her husband avoid structural
The city, which has had about 5,000 such damage claims, reverted
to strictly groundwater use in 1994.
``I think everyone in the community is waiting with great
anticipation,'' Mayor Bob Walkup said as officials discussed delivery
plans before the City Council.
The Colorado River water is carried 336 miles by Central Arizona
Project canals to Tucson.
Its mineral composition and pH differ from Tucson's groundwater.
The CAP water delivered from 1992 to 1994 effectively scoured older
pipes, removing rust and in many cases causing waterline breaks.
The city since has replaced 164 miles of galvanized iron water
mains with plastic pipe and relined another 43 miles of cast-iron
mains with cement -- almost 94 percent.
Other changes also are designed to eliminate any recurrence of
problems, including allowing the water to filter through sediment and
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