In a much-anticipated decision, the City of Phoenix announced today it will extend a deadline to allow water-hauling companies to use water from city hydrants to serve residents of New River and Desert Hills, averting a crisis for up to 1,500 homeowners who do not have working wells and are not part of any municipal water service.
In June, the city had said it would stop providing the water after Dec. 31. Most residents didn’t learn of the decision until a Sept. 20 community meeting, after which a grassroots group called New River/Desert Hills Water was formed to seek two immediate solutions: an alternative source of trucked-in water; and a deadline extension from Phoenix.
Today, Phoenix extended the deadline to April 30, in the wake of the water utility EPCOR’s recent decision to build a water-hauling station to serve the rural residents, and the utility’s subsequent acknowledgement to North Phoenix News last week that it planned to finish the project by the end of April.
The water station, to be built on an acre of leased Anthem land, will replace the need for Phoenix water, which haulers have been drawing from hydrants for years. Had Phoenix not extended the deadline, water haulers warned that the price of delivered water could double or triple, assuming it would be trucked in from Peoria, Scottsdale or some other city that would involve longer travel times.
“At this time, and solely because plans are in motion for a permanent water station to be constructed, the City is willing to extend the permits issued to water-haulers through April 30, 2018,” Councilwoman Thelda Williams said in a letter to several parties involved in the months-long saga.
“The permittees must promptly submit new permit application forms and comply with all associated deadlines and fees,” Williams said. “The City has no intention of extending this final deadline.”
Julie Elliott, president of New River/Desert Hills Water, called the announcement “wonderful news.”
“We’re really thrilled the city is extending this olive branch,” Elliott said in a telephone interview. “We’re very, very appreciative.”
Williams hinted at today’s decision Dec. 8 in a town hall meeting in Anthem in which she said the city was “re-evaluating the situation” and waiting on a construction timeline from EPCOR. In today’s letter, she reiterated reasons why the city initially decided to stop providing the water to non-city residents, and why the new deadline was firm:
“Ratepayers in Phoenix’s water service territory pay for the infrastructure and long-term resources” of the water system, she said. “The City has an important duty — and the Phoenix City Council has a fiduciary responsibility — to protect this precious commodity for residents, who ultimately own the water utility. While Phoenix empathizes with those who reside outside the boundaries of a water utility, it also understands that living outside a city-services area is a choice available to property owners, and we respect their right to make that decision.”
In recent years, some residents of New River and Desert Hills have seen wells go dry, as the local aquifer has been dropping for decades. Rural residents have complained ongoing development that saps the dwindling aquifer, and about state law that allows up to five homes to be built on a piece of rural property with no assured water supply.
On a separate planning track, New River/Desert Hills Water aims to form a Domestic Water Improvement District, which could seek water from EPCOR or other providers. It would be governed by the county and not subject to oversight by the Arizona Corporation Commission. The process could take six months, Elliott has said.
The city’s extended deadline “gives the community the ability to move ahead with the temporary solution that EPCOR has offered and begin to really focus on getting the Domestic Water Improvement District formed and securing a permanent solution,” Elliott said.
Among those who had worked with the Elliott’s group to find solutions: Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates; Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin; and Alan Muller, co-president of the New River/Desert Hills Community Association. Discuss This Article on Facebook >>>
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