|December 27, 2021|
December 27, 2021 Government Domain Newsletter:
Water War: Pima Count vs City of Tucson
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor."Leviticus 19:15
Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting”. In Arizona it’s been the case since before statehood. At this moment a water war has begun between Pima County and the City of Tucson with Pima County suing the City of Tucson over drastically raising its water rates to Tucson Water’s 71,000 customers who live in unincorporated Pima County. The rate increase begins December 2021.
Unlike privately owned water companies, municipal water companies can raise their rates without justifying and getting approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission. Customers who live within the Tucson City boundaries vote for the mayor and council that control water rates. Customers who live in unincorporated Pima County have no say on their water rates.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors opposed this rate increase. Negotiations have failed and now the matter rests in Pima County Superior Court. The complaint is primarily based on:
• Violation of Arizona Revised Statutes requiring that rates be “just and reasonable”;
• Common law rate discrimination by not treating similarly situated customers equally;
• Violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 13 of the Arizona Constitution, providing for equal protection under the law and protection against race-based discrimination;
• Violation of Arizona Revised Statutes prohibiting governments from enacting “special laws".
In my opinion Pima County has a strong case. Since the 1970’s, Tucson Water has operated as a regional water provider. They purposely expanded their territory all the way north to the village of Catalina and as far south, east and west as they could. In turn, they were allocated one of the biggest Central Arizona Project (CAP) water allotments in the state. Pima County taxes pay for 40% of that allotment with the majority of use and benefit within the City of Tucson. Over 78% of Tucson City Water comes from CAP water that is paid for by all Pima County residences.
Tucson Water unilaterally excluded Tucson Unified School District campuses and Native American Tribes, creating a discriminatory 2-tiered system in water rate charges. Tucson’s own Water Advisory Committee formally opposed differential water rates for unincorporated Pima County. Tucson City Water customers within Marana and Oro Valley are also excluded from this rate increase bases on a state law.
Tucson City officials have stated that higher water rates to unincorporated Pima County will encourage county residence to annex into Tucson. This assertion rings hollow in light of little attempt by the City of Tucson to annex that territory.
The issue is this; is it fair and equitable for a municipal water company that is operating as a regional water utility base it’s rates on whether or not the customer resides in an incorporated community or not? It’s now up to the court to decide.