UPDATES: The situation faced by rural residents has changed since the publication of this article. Click here for the latest articles on this topic. The article below remains as originally published.
EPCOR’s proposed location for the water-hauling station (right) and an alternative site suggested by others (left).
New River and Desert Hills residents seeking a solution to the impending year-end shut-off of their water supply saw daylight in a decision last night by Anthem Community Council, but uncertainties remain in a process likely to extend into February, if it in fact proceeds.
With the blessing of Pulte, ACC voted 5–1 to offer a lease-option to EPCOR for an acre of Anthem property for construction of a water-hauling station. But in the face of newly raised concerns from some residents, and an alternative possible solution presented at the last minute, ACC opted to delay implementation of the lease-option until two weeks after the agreement is finalized—a process that could take a week or two, according to ACC staff. ACC also amended the plan so that either party could void the agreement during that period.
That means EPCOR won’t have an official green light for three or four weeks. The utility company has said it will take about two months to construct the station after final approval. That all adds up to fresh flow of water no sooner than early February.
Meanwhile, up to 1,500 homeowners in New River and Desert Hills face a Dec. 31 deadline when Phoenix plans to shut off the supply of hydrant water that’s trucked to them. EPCOR proposed the water-hauling station as a solution, aiming to build it on Anthem property bordering Desert Hills Drive.
Among more than 100 meeting attendees, four residents of Desert Hills who live near the proposed water-hauling station—on the north side of Desert Hills Drive near 17th Avenue—voiced opposition (to the location only, not the need or the concept) based on concerns about noise and road safety, also noting that they learned of the proposal only in recent days.
The location [see map above] is near a bus stop and is between Daisy Mountain Fire Department Station 145 and an emergency entrance to Anthem at Meridian Drive.
The spot “can’t handle the added traffic,” said Desert Hills resident Tina Doherty. “It would not be [just] dangerous, it would be extremely negligent.” Doherty called the project “unsightly” and worried the bustle of trucks, noise and dust would create anxiety and hurt property values.
“We will lose a significant amount of home value,” she said.
Bob McKenzie, the lone ACC board member to vote against the proposal, also objected to the location. An alternate spot suggested by residents, near 19th Avenue, “is far superior,” McKenzie said. He agreed with Doherty that the 17th Avenue spot was “right at the front door of some of those residents,” he said, whereas the 19th Avenue location was farther from homes.
Troy Day, EPCOR vice president of operations, said the proposed location near 17th Avenue is the best option based on the need to avoid washes and a potential requirement to reroute the Maricopa Trail, which runs through the entire strip of available Anthem property. But McKenzie said he “hasn’t heard anything from EPCOR” to support that argument.
McKenzie also questioned whether a 20-year lease made sense. “This was supposed to be a temporary solution,” he said.
EPCOR requested the long lease in order to recoup the $500,000 investment it expects to make. Day has repeatedly stated that the company does not intend to make money on the deal and is actually concerned it won’t even break even.
“No one is going to get rich,” said ACC President Roger Willis. “Anthem is not in this for the money.”
Willis also emphasized that the problem faced by rural residents has nothing to do with Anthem, which has no obligation to be part of any solution. “We want to help our neighbors,” he said.
A New Idea
Toward the end of the meeting’s roughly two-hour-long public discussion, James Cantelme, owner of the water-hauling company 310 Dust Control, presented an alternative idea.
Cantelme proposed running a water line from Anthem north along the I-17 frontage road to a New River commercial property he said he’s in the process of purchasing. He would buy the water from EPCOR, store it in tanks, and provide it to other water-hauling companies, as well as delivering it to rural residents himself, too.
Day, the EPCOR representative, didn’t know enough about the proposal to evaluate its merit. “We are happy to consider any idea,” Day said. “If this is a better answer, fantastic.”
It was not made clear, however, whether EPCOR will actually look into the idea. The two-week delay that ACC added to its approved motion was not accompanied by any commitment from EPCOR to consider Cantelme’s proposal.
The grassroots group New River/Desert Hills Water, which has been informing residents and pushing for solutions, views the original EPCOR proposal as the most viable given the urgency of the need. The group “is pleased that the Anthem Community Council voted to move forward and approve the water station property lease with EPCOR,” said Julie Elliott, president of New River/Desert Hills Water.
Cantelme’s alternative proposal “is still just a concept,” Elliott told North Phoenix News. “Much will need to be done by the company to determine whether the plan is even feasible.” She encourages Anthem and EPCOR to move forward with the original proposal.
If Cantelme’s proposal can be realized in the future, “it will be a welcome additional resource for the community,” Elliott said. “We would not view their proposed concept as a replacement for the EPCOR solution.”
New River/Desert Hills Water is working to create a “domestic water improvement district,” which could apply for funding grants and could negotiate for water with utilities or municipalities. The process will take at least six months, Elliott says.
Service Gap Looms
If EPCOR and Anthem agree to proceed with the original idea, the utility will still have to get county approval for the project. The rate EPCOR will charge water haulers—$9.55 per 1,000 gallons—was approved Nov. 7 by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
“We hope that the City of Phoenix can extend their deadline for permits to haul potable water using their hydrants to get residents through the construction period wherever the standpipe is located,” Andy Tobin of the Corporation Commission said after it approved the EPCOR rates.
Earlier this month, the city indicated it might soften its once-firm stance on the Dec. 31 deadline, if Anthem and EPCOR were to strike a deal. “The City of Phoenix is assessing and monitoring the situation,” Stephanie Bracken, spokesperson for Phoenix Water Services Department, told North Phoenix News on Nov. 7. “We will make any decisions regarding this at the appropriate time.”
Details of the Deal
If the Anthem/EPCOR lease proceeds, here are the details both parties have agreed to:
The Water: EPCOR does not have a firm estimate for how much water will be supplied to rural areas, but it will draw from a 300 acre-foot supply of water that it currently recharges back into the ground each year. (One acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough to cover a football field about a foot deep.) Should more be needed, EPCOR says it has various unused water credits through the Central Arizona Project that it could call in.
The Lease: 20 years, with the option for two 2-year extensions if both parties agree. The dollar amount of the lease was not released.
Hours of Operation: 7 days a week, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents near the station wondered how many trucks a day the operation would involved. Day said he didn’t have a firm number but estimated 15 to 25.
Impact on Anthem: The contract requires that the rural water supply have no impact on Anthem’s water supply or rates. The hauling station will be accessed from Desert Hills Drive. None of the truck traffic bound for rural homes will enter Anthem.
Where the Water Will Go: The Corporation Commission has required that the water go to New River and Desert Hills residents only, Day said, adding that EPCOR has not yet determined how it will enforce that rule.
Whatever solutions may be found to the immediate problem, many rural residents and some government officials see a looming statewide water problem as developers continue to build up to five homes on rural acreage without being required to guarantee a source of water.
With local aquifers dropping and wells running dry, experts and residents say, there will be more and more dependence on trucked-in water.
Given that, the grassroots group New River/Desert Hills Water is in the process of creating a “domestic water improvement district,” that could negotiate with EPCOR or other utilities or municipal water sources, in an effort to create a long-term solution to the area’s water woes.
TIMELINE: Fast-track to Solutions
June 1, 2017 Phoenix notifies water haulers that after Dec. 31 hydrant water can no longer be trucked to rural homes.
Aug. 10 In&Out/North Phoenix News article reveals Phoenix’s planned shut-off, attributed to a city code that forbids hydrants to be sources of potable water.
Sept. 14 In&Out/North Phoenix News analysis shows the aquifer under New River and Desert Hills has been declining for decades and wells are going dry.
Sept. 19 A community meeting of about 150 rural homeowners seeds formation of the grassroots group New River/Desert Hills Water.
Sept. 24 New River/Desert Hills Water holds its first meeting. Within days, county and state officials and EPCOR are engaged in finding solutions.
Oct. 12 Anthem Community Council holds a special meeting to discuss EPCOR’s proposal for a water-hauling station on Anthem property.
Nov. 15 Anthem Community Council votes to approve EPCOR’s proposal, but adds a two-week waiting period before it becomes effective.
Dec. 31 Planned shut-off date for City of Phoenix water, but the city has indicated the date might be negotiable if residents can estimate when a solution will be in place.