Flush Tucson’s ‘Toilet to Tap’ Proposition 200

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There are a lot of people lining up to tell you to vote NO on Prop 200. Just about the entire economic and political elite of Pima County have come down against it. Personally, I can’t think of a better reason to vote for it.

Literally.

I really can’t think of any better reason to vote for it. And that’s just not enough of a reason for me.

Having read the thing carefully, what struck me was not how restrictive it is – which is what most are moaning about – but how full of loopholes it is. Basically, the reason I suggest you vote against it is not that it’s a disaster waiting to happen, but because it won’t accomplish squat… other than unintended consequences that is.

This is something of unique perspective on the initiative, so far as I can tell. And that decided me that I would go ahead and write something about it.

The first hole in the prop, which is big enough to swallow the most important provision whole, is that voters get the option of indefinitely delaying the cut-off of new connections. That’s right. City voters get to kick the day of reckoning down the road by four years every time we get within two years of a the dreaded new connection moratorium.

The thing is drafted so that any first year law student can reasonably argue to construe it to allow not just one such delay, but an unspecified, indeed unlimited, number of delaying elections. Frankly, I’m not really sure that isn’t the actual intent of the drafters.

A lot of junkies will agree to give up the junk when they’ve got a regular supply, but once they start jonesing, well-intentioned resolutions to reform go right out the window. Tucson is a junky for water, when it comes down to brass tacks and we are staring at cut-offs of new connections (even on infill development, I suppose), they can come up with plenty of reasons to delay just a couple more years. My prediction: the cut-off would never arrive.

The next major problem I have with the Prop is one that most won’t admit: I want the city to have the new revenue from the trash tax. I think what Mike Hein and the Council have done to create an investment plan to repair roads and fund city fire and police services is critically important. Cutting the $23 million generated by the trash tax would imperil the continuance of that investment.

Further, there’s just no good goddamn reason to restrict the City from raising revenue for environmental services through taxes. I don’t think fee for service and the sort of enterprise fund revenue silo the framers of this prop apparently desire is necessarily the only or best way to deliver those services. I don’t think it is wise to place such micro-managing restrictions in our Charter.

The restrictions on effluent use are just stupid. It would have been a stronger prop if they had just stopped at "No effluent or reclaimed sewer water shall ever be added to, or blended with, the drinking water supply." Great! I can live with that. But then they gotta get all overbearingly controlling again. The prop mandates only two possible uses for effluent: Santa Cruz release or irrigation. That leaves out dozens of perfectly safe and reasonable uses for that water, including any industrial uses. This over-control of effluent use has no point at all and actually wastes our water.

Finally, the big whammy is that the whole prop has one over-riding and unstated effect: to break the monopoly of Tucson Water. The market incentives created by this prop all lead to one conclusion: when Tucson Water finds itself unable to respond to market demands because of these restrictions on new connections or effluent uses, someone else will respond. That places Tucson’s water future in the hands of a multiplicity of private, solely profit-driven hands. Nothing could be worse for Tucson’s future.

We have a precious asset in the public control we are able to exert over Tucson Water, Prop 200 would inexorably chip away at that public control. New water companies would start trading water, sinking wells, recharging, and delivering where Tucson Water can’t. Water flows toward money, and Prop 200 ensures that there will be plenty of money calling for it outside of the control of Tucson Water.

Prop 200 is well-intentioned. But it suffers from those lacks that so often drag down a citizen initiative: lack of expertise, lack of truly critical input, lack of public scrutiny and participation outside of a small, ideologically inspired core group. The result is largely ineffective, overly specified, ideologically compromised, and short-sighted legislation. I think some of the goals of the prop are admirable, but the issues are really just too complex and nuanced to be addressed with a page or two of changes to the Charter.

I never expect our elected officials to accomplish much on their own, but rather hope that with sufficient public interest and participation that they be forced to adopt wise policy. I have hope that the new City Council will be forced to begin to really address water sustainability when the election results on this prop are tallied. I fully expect it will lose, but I think it may be closer than anyone expects. Prop 200 will get votes not because it is good plan – it’s manifestly not – but because it is the only plan on the table.

People are frustrated, fed up, and deeply concerned, and our City Council has provided little leadership on this issue. This election may demonstrate that this is an issue with legs that people will vote on. This election may make citizens aware that we staring down the barrel of a dry pipeline at a bleak future, and that they have to demand our water future be addressed with wise and far-sighted policies.

No, it is unreasonable to hope that even with a Democratic lock on the Council that they will adopt wise, honest, and sustainable water policy for Tucson; we must force them to do it. And Prop 200, for all it faults, might just be the beginning of better way forward for our no-so-little desert oasis.


8 COMMENTS

  1. We are having the same discussions here in Los Angeles about using recycled water in our drinking supply and i think it’s not just a great idea but a necessary one. The science is there to make the water cleaner than our current tap water. There is already one in Orange county where only the rich and ultra rich tend to live and they were all for it. To me it’s an issue of educating people as to how it’s done, and why it is safe and neccessary. I agree with you in your case that if you are going to recycle the water use it. Don’t spend the money on the project if you aren’t going to implement it. Also giving people the choice to put off connection is the dumbest thing I ever heard and whoever had that idea should be fired and maybe shot out a cannon towards the moon.

  2. In opposition to the wording of Prop. 200, the Arizona State Court of Appeals has upheld a superior court decison that Arizona DES cannot be held liable for their agency’s violations of citizens rights protected by the statute. The Court also upheld the lower court’s decision that Northern Arizona Council of
    Governments is not subject to Prop. 200 requirements although they distribute taxpayer monies and are technically a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, participating in the Arizona State Retirement System. The State Courts, in league with the State Attorney General’s Office, have twisting the meaning of the plain wording of Prop. 200 to deny citizens benefits by requiring special identification not required under the law for proof of citizenship by voters, i.e., creating hardship for needy citizens by not accepting original birth certificates, Arizona drivers’ licenses or voters ID cards.

  3. One thing Prop 200 has done is raise the debate about water usage, growth, and
    sustainable living– which is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is a
    poorly written proposition which cobbles together several different
    loosely connected issues into one vote. (This is a trick that
    Congressmen play on each other all the time. They end up voting “yes”
    on a bill because they like one piece of it.) The author of Prop 200
    has used the rallying cry of “no garbage fee” to get people to vote
    for a bill that promotes his personal agenda on development.

    Those of you who know me know that I’m all for water conservation,
    grey water usage, rainwater collection, xeriscape, and sustainable
    living. I believe Prop 200 is a dangerously bad idea for several
    reasons: 1) it addresses only one part of water conservation (ie, new
    water hook-ups in Tucson only); 2) it eliminates all forms of water-
    related public education except bill stuffers (which research has
    shown no one reads); 3) it doesn’t address agricultural or golf
    course usage of water; 4) it is not comprehensive in that it focuses
    only on Tucson and not the booming desert suburbs of Tucson; and 4)
    with elimination of the “environmental services fee” (ie, garbage
    fee) it promotes the idea that we can have all the services and not
    pay for them.

    I wholeheartedly believe that the unintended consequence of this
    proposition will be the promotion of new water hook-ups outside of
    Tucson and urban sprawl.

    Any water conservation plan should be comprehensive and regional– or
    at least statewide. This is NOT a city issue. A water conservation
    plan would regulate new hook-ups, establish impact fees, promote
    desert landscaping, encourage rainwater collection and grey water
    usage, educate the public and landscape professionals, and provide
    funding for “water cops”. (Tucson has one 1/2 time water cop; the
    Las Vegas region has 6 or more and comprehensive planning. There are
    good models out there.) Rather than vote for a poorly knee-jerk
    proposition, let’s work for real sustainability and wise use of water
    in Southern Arizona.

  4. Kralmajales; I agree with you on this one!

    Those of us who have been around Tucson since the 1960’s rush from Downtown to the East Side; I first bought a new Chastain home in Enchanted Hills next door to Steve Emerine in 1967 and Kennedy Park sold it and moved East ( I bought a New Marved Home at Prudence and Stella in 1971 that was in the County and promised if I voted for The City of Tucson Annexation I would get FREE TRASH Pick-up and Free Fire);then the rush to the Northwest where I bought a New Marved U.S. Home at Ina and La Canada where my neighbor and I began and formed the Northwest Fire District to keep the City of Tucson from Annexing us; then to my current home in Oro Valley having been fed a line of crap from the city of tucson and the Idiots running it for 40 years got the hell away from that bunch of robe wearing hippies with beards smoking everything you could stuff into a pipe praising themselves from Margo Cowans adventures to a reflecting RAINBOW being installed on top of City Hall says it all!

  5. Interesting information on voting registration and absentee ballots Sylvia. This would be pretty astounding for an offyear council election.

    The worry I would have is that the machine running the anti-prop 200 debate is undoubtably sending out lots of ballot requests and are doing much more than advertising. I suspect they are targeting voters. Also, I suspect that the GOP knows that this is a lowturnout election and that they very well might catch Glassman, Scott, etc. napping. That might be the reason for more requests.

    On the other hand, Glassman has a very saavy campaign manager that knows about contacting voters. I suspect they could be getting all the ballot requests. Interesting to see the party breakdown.

    Last, as for registrations, that is pretty surprising…and impressive if they are up…especially in a Democrat dominated city.

  6. The Recorder’s office says there have been a record number of new voter registration and absentee ballot because of this election.

    I doubt this many people are lining up to vote for the right to throw $14 away every month – considering the lousy income level in Tucson.

    Don’t be so sure to believe that the public will be duped into buying the propagada against Proposition 200. We are all sick of the developers and special interests.

    And, who is stupid enough to believe that the developers can get a permit to dig a well easily? This is Tucson buracracy we are talking about!

  7. I suspect that this one is going down to defeat without much problem. The real draw to passing it would have been to repeal the garbage fee, which Democrats Uhlich and Trasoff have backed away from after they ran on it. I am sorry, I don’t buy the excuses. The one I received by email by Trasoff was just plain lame. I think the scrutiny they receive on this one is just plain earned, even though I generally like them.

    On 200, the language of the proposition is very obscure and doesn’t even mention the garbage fee in the wording. It has something like Environmental something or the other.

    Last, the campaign to defeat this proposition is pretty much like the one to pass the RTA. Big spin machine, big money…etc. I even saw a ringer opposing it on Inside Tucson Business on Sunday morning…but no one representing the other side.

    Not the best proposition I know…not sure I am supporting it either…but it sure has some people running scared…and spending a whole whole lot of money.

    The ad folks and PR folks must be pretty happy.

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