Anthem & EPCOR’s Plan to Solve Rural Water Woes Flows Forward

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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.

A proposal by the utility EPCOR to build a water-hauling station on Anthem property to serve homeowners in New River and Desert Hills moved closer to resolution this week, though a final decision by Anthem isn’t expected until Nov. 15 as negotiators rework the agreement’s fine points.

Rural residents without working wells are forced to buy trucked-in water, and the City of Phoenix plans to shut the supply off Dec. 31, citing a city ordinance that forbids potable use of hydrant water. Homeowners have called the situation everything from urgent to dire.

At its monthly meeting Oct. 25, Anthem Community Council reiterated its desire to help the rural neighbors by leasing land to EPCOR for the station. [See the full background on this issue here.] But several details must be worked out, including:

  • Length of the lease. EPCOR is requesting a minimum of 20 years in order to recoup the half million dollars in construction costs, said company spokesperson Troy Day, and would prefer to have exclusive options to extend the lease thereafter. Anthem may consider shorter extensions with non-exclusive options.
  • Lease payment amount. Anthem has not determined the value of the acre it would lease. EPCOR has a number in mind but that was not divulged at the meeting. The two parties plan to compare notes, research comparable setups, and negotiate.
  • The water’s destination. Initially, Anthem’s council had requested EPCOR allow water to be hauled only to existing homes in New River and Desert Hills. Both parties now agree such a rule would be difficult or even impossible to enforce, and the plan is to let market forces keep a lid on the distribution, on the assumption that it’s too costly to haul the water to, say, Prescott or Scottsdale.
  • Hours of operation. The filling station, on Desert Hills Drive adjacent to Anthem’s far eastern border, will create noise, dust and traffic that Anthem’s council wants to ensure is minimized. (None of the truck traffic bound for rural homes will enter Anthem.) Rural residents expressed a desire for the filling station to be open as much as possible— perhaps dawn to dusk, seven days a week—especially given extreme needs during summer.

“We’re going to do this deal,” said council board member Bob McKenzie, echoing the sentiments of other board members. “It’s just a matter of how we get there.”

Any agreement will need to be approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which has indicated a willingness to help expedite the process.

Lifting Limits

Both parties also agreed to jettison language from the proposal that would have capped the amount of water EPCOR could provide through the hauling station. EPCOR has pledged to provide only water that it otherwise recharges into the underground aquifer, so as not to impinge on the flow of water, nor impact the price to Anthem residents.

EPCOR recharges about 300 acre-feet of water a year, Day has said previously. (One acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough to cover a football field about a foot deep.) The initial estimate for how much would be needed to serve New River and Desert Hills was 33 acre-feet, but Day now says the figure is probably higher, and ultimately not possible to predict, particularly as additional wells presumably go dry over time and new homes are built that may not have a supply of water.

Given this uncertainty, EPCOR wants sole discretion over how it distributes the water, to whom, and and how much is released.

Board members asked Day how EPCOR would deal with the fact that new construction continues unabated in New River and Desert Hills, and that will put more pressure on the dwindling aquifer and create greater demand for trucked water.

“We have the same concern,” Day said. “I don’t have an answer for it.” He added, however, that EPCOR has various unused water credits through the Central Arizona Project that it could draw from if needed.

Many residents in the rural communities are frustrated with state and county laws that allow developers to build and sell homes without a well or any source of water, effectively requiring the new homeowner to buy trucked water.

Jenna Kohl, Anthem’s community executive officer, told North Phoenix News that provisions are being included in the agreement to ensure Anthem’s EPCOR customers as well as residents of the properties adjacent to a proposed site (both Anthem and Desert Hills), aren’t adversely affected.

UNRELATED: EPCOR Seeks Revenue Hike & Water District Consolidation

What’s Next

Various groups in the rural communities are working on other, long-term solutions. The grassroots group No Water—No Life is aiming to create a county-governed “domestic water improvement district” that could seek water supplies from EPCOR or other entities. (Such an entity would not be subject to oversight by the Arizona Corporation Commission.) The process could take six months, said the group’s president, Julie Elliott. A separate group aims to establish New River as an official town, which would give it some regulation authority and negotiating muscle.

Meanwhile, the Dec. 31 shut-off deadline looms, the City of Phoenix has been resolute in its stance, and EPCOR has said it could take two- to-three months to build the hauling station once a deal with Anthem is in place. Anthem’s leaders expressed a desire to vote on a final EPCOR proposal at its next monthly meeting, Nov. 15.

“We’re talking with the City of Phoenix for a bridge in time,” Elliott said. “They’ve asked how much time we need… we don’t know yet. We’re in a holding pattern.” Discuss This Article on Facebook >>>

Be Heard
Anthem Community Council Board of Directors Meeting
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15
Anthem Civic Building
3701 W. Anthem Way

Previous Articles About the Rural Water Woes
Robert Roy Britt
NoPho resident Robert Roy Britt has written for In&Out publications since its inception in 2005. Britt began his journalism career in New Jersey newspapers in the early 1990s. He later became a science writer and was editor-in-chief of the online media sites and Live Science. He has written four novels. .

Robert Roy Britt

NoPho resident Robert Roy Britt has written for In&Out publications since its inception in 2005. Britt began his journalism career in New Jersey newspapers in the early 1990s. He later became a science writer and was editor-in-chief of the online media sites and Live Science. He has written four novels. .

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