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Editorial: Tucson should wash itself of water issue

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 8, 1999

The recent discovery of coliform bacteria in UA-owned wells provides a new perspective on Tucson's ever-growing water problem. While the discovery of bacteria in the water at McKale Center, Forbes and the Campus Agricultural Center at first doesn't seem to have much to do with the local shenanigans involving Central Arizona Project water, there are some correlations that should be known in order to better understand the issue.

Today's primary election for mayor has focused mostly on water issues, but the public has been denied a lot of the facts.

First, some background: In 1993, Central Arizona Project, or CAP, water made its way through the pipes of Tucson. The pipes in most parts of the city were old and were used to ground water, which has high levels of calcium carbonate in it.

Through the years, calcium carbonate built up on the inside of the pipes. When the CAP water was pumped through the very same pipes without any prior testing, the water basically washed off all those calcium deposits, turning the water a sort of brownish color.

Naturally, this freaked everyone out and voters passed the Water Consumer Protection Act in 1995, which banned CAP water from being directly delivered to homes for five years. Provisions to reinforce the Water Consumer Protection Act will be on the November ballot, and whoever wins in the primary will have an effect on Tucson's future water supply.

Luckily, the University of Arizona's private wells are excluded from this law, and the contaminates found in the buildings were caused by the pipes. If the UA were included and if the contaminates had been found in the wells, we would have had a very large problem on our hands. Part of the Water Consumer Protection Act prohibits the city of Tucson from delivering groundwater from a polluted source, even though the technology exists to clean the water. So if the contaminates had been found in the university wells, which are owned by the city, they would have had to be shut down.

Think of this in context of the recent radon news. The EPA is required under the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1991 to upgrade the standards of drinking water. This year, the proposal is to regulate radon, a naturally occurring element that is found in groundwater. An estimated 40 percent of Tucson's wells exceed the proposed radon limit. The technology exists to clean radon out of drinking water, but, according to the Water Consumer Protection Act, the wells must be shut down. The city's available drinking water would be sliced in half. It would be like an instant drought, caused not by Mother Nature, but by a rather ridiculous voter initiative that was passed by feeding off of public ignorance and fear.

Luckily, the UA was able to treat the water in the Forbes building, and provide the students, faculty and staff who frequent that building with water. Imagine for a moment that the Forbes building is the city of Tucson. Contaminates are found in the water. Under the Water Consumer Protection Act of 1995, treating the water is not an option: the wells would have to be shut down.

What happened at Forbes, McKale and the Campus Agricultural Center could happen in Tucson on a much larger scale when the EPA passes the radon regulations, and with greater impacts, under the current Water Consumer Protection Act, which is on the city of Tucson ballot again this November as Proposition 200. A vote for this initiative would be like voting against technology. Make sure your vote in today's mayoral primary is for someone who is willing to keep the water glasses in Tucson filled.

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