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Live blog transcript: Tucson City Council discussion of CAP pipeline

Star reporter Tony Davis will blog live from the Tucson City Council meeting as the council discusses the CAP pipeline and Rosemont Copper's use of CAP water. The study session will begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday and the live blog will begin at approximately 12:30 p.m.

  • Here we go again—Rosemont Mine, chapter ad infinitum.

    This time, the Tucson City Council is going to discuss what standards it will set to determine which if any party gets to connect a new Central Arizona Project pipeline toward Green Valley to an existing CAP pipeline that’s tied to the Pima Mine Road Recharge Project. It’s owned by the city and the three-county agency that runs CAP – the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (actually, the CAP and district’s names are used interchangeably).
    The two pipeline applicants are Community Water Co. of Green Valley and Farmers Investment Co. of Sahuarita, the pecan growers. Both have been pushing CAP pipeline proposals since 2007 or 2008. Recently, both companies or their representatives have been heavily lobbying council members to accept their proposals.
    The FICO proposal is relatively uncontroversial. Its pipeline would allow the pecan growers and others with access to CAP water to bring it directly to the groves to replace the groundwater pumping that’s been one of that region’s biggest contributors if not the biggest contributor to its perennial groundwater overdraft. Or, as Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold is considering for its Sierrita Mine, a water user in that area could bring in CAP to use on their own properties to replace their groundwater pumping.
    The company has state approval to have its groves considered a Groundwater Savings Facility, in which other users could put CAP water there, allowing them to pump groundwater elsewhere—a practice that other water experts have criticized. At the same time, if developers or mining companies or anyone else is recharging CAP at the groves so they can pump groundwater elsewhere, that’s generally considered a better idea than the current practice of recharging CAP water in Marana – where little or no pumping is occurring and the water table is simply building up.
    Community Water Co.’s pipeline is considerably more controversial, primarily because it is being paid for by Augusta Resource Corp., Rosemont Copper’s parent company. This pipeline was originally proposed, first and foremost, as a way for the mining company to bring CAP water down to Green Valley-Sahuarita to replenish groundwater pumped for its mine across the Santa Rita Mountains. Now, it’s being sold the way FICO is selling its pipeline—as a way to bring in more CAP water for every user down there.
    Community Water is also trying to sell this project as a wildlife habitat enhancement scheme. They’re planning to recharge their CAP water into sets of huge basins, holding 14,000 acre-feet each, and built in phases. But instead of building conventional looking basins such as those in Marana – which CWC pipeline project manager Raul Pina describes as “a square hole with water in it,” they’re planning to design these ponds more naturally, “more organic,” as CWC spokeswoman Carol Zimmerman puts it. They’re proposing flat slopes on the sides of the ponds, for shorebirds to walk in, with surrounding vegetation so the birds have a place to nest. They're also hoping to have public access to the ponds, to attract birders – complete with connections to neighboring walking trails.
    Such a strategy clearly won’t impress opponents of the Rosemont Mine who charge that the mine will destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in the Santa Ritas – an area they consider a jewel of this entire region. How the council will react is unknown, as only a couple of the council members gave me substantive comments in interviews last week.
    The mine’s opponents attack this pipeline as one that will be compensating for a new use of groundwater in the area, compared to FICO’s pipeline that is supposed to bring in CAP to replace existing groundwater uses. In the long run, of course, both pipelines would enhance their region’s aquifers, assuming they can get more customers than what they’ve got now.
    CWC doesn’t see this issue as competition between two pipelines, and points out that the region’s Upper Santa Cruz Providers and Users Group (PUG), which represents numerous regional water users, endorses both pipelines.
    “Our project is six miles upstream of their Groundwater Savings Facility. FICO only goes as far as their permitted GSF, but this goes much further,” CWC’s Pina says. “The pipeline itself to our facility is also being oversized so in the future, somebody can hook up to it and bring it to the Canoa Ranch or where another recharge facility would be.”
    FICO president Dick Walden, however, sees plenty of competition between the two pipelines. While some of the pecan groves’ wells will benefit from CWC’s recharge ponds—lying upstream from the groves – others will be negatively impacted by Rosemont’s pumping, he says. His company also eventually would want to expand its line, slated for 3.5 miles in its first phase, to 9 miles eventually.
    “Today, we live with groundwater laws that gave mines a free ride,” says Walden, referring to the ability of mines to pump unlimited amounts as long as they get state permits—which usually can’t be denied to mining companies. “I don’t think anyone should have a the right to come in and destroy a business.”
  • It's now about 1:34 p.m. The council is in executive session and is slated to start discussing the CAP pipeline issue once the exec is finished. The council chambers are packed, both with folks interested in the pipeline and a large group of members of the Tucson Police Officers Association, here to discuss salary-economic issues with the council. The room is basically SRO. Lots of chattering.
  • It's now almost 2 p.m. Exec session is still going on. When will this long-awaited discussion begin? The council can't be nervous about discussing this in front of an audience, could it?
  • “Today, we live with groundwater laws that gave mines a free ride,” says Walden
  • “Today, we live with groundwater laws that gave mines a free ride,” says Walden....is not this what agriculture has also gotten in southern Arizona? Free ride with respect to groundwater withdrawals, people killing haboob storms owing to bladed ground, dust equal to tailings facilities? No industry is w/o impact to the environment.
  • No, Silvertones, agriculture is hardly perfect when it comes to dust and dust storms. Agriculture is unregulated by the county when it comes to air quality--the state Department of Environmental Quality is supposed to do that. But when it comes to groundwater pumping, the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act puts more limits on farms than it does on mines.
  • There is an interesting history to this mines v. farms dispute, by the way, as recounted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources on this site:
    The 1970s also were when it all came together for water management in Arizona. Over the previous four decades, lawmakers had labored unsuccessfully to limit groundwater pumping. What was different in 1976 was the cities and the mining interests lost an important case at the Arizona Supreme Court when justices ruled a private company (pecan growers) could impose a limit on how much groundwater a municipality (Tucson in this case) and copper mines could pump. The cities and the mines demanded relief from the Legislature. Pretty soon the Legislature formed a 25-member groundwater commission to write a new groundwater law. After a year and a half of the members getting an education on water law, it was time for some decisions.
  • That was the link. The "pecan growers" referred to in that DWR history are, of course, the owners of Farmers Investment Co., or FICO, which won a big court case in 1976 allowing it to limit what cities and mines could pump in the growers' sphere of influence in the aquifer. One mining company, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold, continues to pay FICO $150,000 a year in settlement payments stemming from that case. Freeport owns the Sierrita mine in the Green Valley area.
  • The ADWR link I just posted traces the history of that groundwater law, considered at the time to be the toughest of its kind in the country. The site doesn't go into the details of the law, but it was generally conceded at the time by most parties that the farms got the short end of the stick politically, and the mines came out on top. At the time, there seemed to be good reason for that outcome, because agriculture was using 89 percent of the state's water while furnishing only a small number of the state's jobs. Today, many people in Arizona view agriculture more favorably because they wish to preserve food growing as an industry, but the view held by Mr. Silvertones is also quite popular among many circles, and not just those in favor of Rosemont and against FICO.
  • The council members are now taking their seats.Uhlich, Cunningham, Scott and the rest of them are ready to go. So are we out in the audience. Shirley Scott sits down-the last of the seven members.
  • They're about to start. Manager Richard Miranda turns the topic over to Tucson Water Director Alan Forrest -- criteria for third party connections to the Pima Mine Road pipeline. He starts a slide show--a map of the CAP's Pima Mine Road Recharge Project is first. Located on the SE corner of the Tohono Nation's San Xavier District. The existing line, 36 inches in diameter, can carry 42,000 acre feet of water a year, whereas the recharge project can store 30,000 acre feet a year. A second slide shows the Pima Mine road CAP pipeline, heading east toward the recharge project.
  • Per terms of an intergovernmental agreement, both the city and the CAP must approve whoever uses this line. A new slide shows a map of both proposed pipelines--CWC and FICO. FICO is red, CWC is blue. Ultimately, Community Water's pipeline will connect to the CAP terminus. But given there is a bridge over the river that's not sound enough to carry a new pipeline. Until the bridge can be rebuilt in 5 years, CWC wants temporary access to CAP at Pima Mine Road. FICO, Forrest points out, has an existing Groundwater Savings Facility. The entity providing CAP water to the GSF can get recharge credits in the amount matching what groundwater they save, Forrest says. He doesn't explain this but these credits means that entity can pump groundwater somewhere else to match the amount of CAP put into the groundwater facility.
  • Kozachik comes to the mike, partly to note that the staff-written agenday material has been corrected to show that CAP board of directors did not approve the controversial "all or nothing" signup policy, as was previously put on the agenda material.
  • Kozachik talks about "sufficient notice" requirement in the criteria. He understands it to be one full water year. Forrest says, "We hadn't come to a conclusion on that, but just off the top of my head it seems like a reasonable time frame."
  • Scott asks if there is someone waiting for an allotment and they want to wheel a percentage of the allotment can they with these policies?
  • Forrest asks Assistant City Attorney Chris Avery to address that question. Avery walks over to the council, sits down and responds. Can a CAP allocation holder wheel it to another party for eventual use? They could, he says, and we have those kind of wheeling agreements in place today. EG: the city has access to 500 acre feet of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and 1,500 feet belonging to the Town of Oro Valley. It is appropriate for the entity to spell out where that water will go--that it is understood up front that there could be a prospective wheeling agreement.
  • Avery says he thinks that would be appropriate.
  • Forrest says some research has found that CAP use at FICO GSF could hurt the city's ability to recharge downstream at Pima Mine Road. If that happens, "we could basically curtail deliveries through our pipeline to the additional recharge project. We could continue to work with the entities to have the recharge project and have our water in the ground." One possibility is for the city to put water in the GSF.
  • Romero wants clarification of criteria I: "The way you explained it to us is different from how it's written. Also, I do agree with having additional criteria that after staff review it comes to Mayor and Council final approval. I also have an issue of CAP staff v. CAP board . . . I would like to see the position of the CAP board. I do agree with guiding principles . . . We created guiding principles with our water policy. In order to plan for future use of CAP water, I generally agree with this direction that Mayor and Council takes."
  • Fimbres: How many times has an entity applied to use the pipeline from 2000 to 2012?
  • Forrest: We've only been approached by two entities, the two we mentioned today. No other entities.
  • Scott suggests moving forward with policy criteria, with clarifications and additions. A second. Now discussion continues. Cunningham has a couple of things. In the Pima Mine Recharge Project: can this process be duplicated by other areas where there are recharge projects? Forrest says, "I'm not aware of any other recharge projects . . . " If Oro Valley wants to connect to us, would this criteria apply or would we have to start over with new criteria? Cunningham asks.
  • Forrest: We could make it apply to all of them. Cunningham: I'd want to use it as a template, but not specifically. The current intersect: Does that intersect at 36 inches as well? Forrest: That's correct: Our pipeline is 36 inches and both of the others are 36 inches. Forrest: The hydraulics of the situation. You couldn't supply anything more than a 36 inch pipeline from our 36.
  • Cunningham: What if the Tohono decides to build a recharge facility down the road from ours? Would that supersede our facility?
  • Avery: This provision gives us the possibility of moving forward with a mutually beneficial project with the Tohono Nation. We could do that by ourselves without having to go to CAP for permission.
  • Cunningham: If we get a mutually beneficial project built by TO in conjunction with the city of Tucsonm, that's interrupted by these projects, then these projects are off.
  • Avery: Says the ultimate principle here, we have the right to use excess capacity of this pipeline for our benefit. Any agreement with another party should be for our benefit. Agreement with Tohono we don't need CAP approval.
  • Rothschild: I'd like to add that to our criteria.
  • The motion is set for the criteria. Uhlich asks are there clear stipulations we have existing agreements, whoever owns the pipe and manages the pipe, it's our system, we have to worry about their impact, with regard to our system, we have water quality issues -- are those boilerplates that we have or do we need to apply them here? Avery: There's always some kind of act of God provision that could be put in. One additional fact; Even in an agreement with Tohono it requires us to reach some . . . principles, with any other third parties, even an approved contract with Mayor and Council would require third party agreement with CAP or three-way agreement with CAP and third party that would cover those details.
  • Rothschild: Reading item c, item b, the project provides net gain of water to entire basin, correct? Forrest: Yes, you could also add water quality provision.
  • The motion to approve the 11 criteria passes. No real rancor, no debates. No comments from the audience. That's it.
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