As litigation continues over control of the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility, the Town of Marana has put together some numbers to demonstrate the perks of providing residents with a town-owned wastewater facility.
According to Town Manager Gilbert Davidson, there are a few driving factors that will force the Town to secure its future in the wastewater business.
Currently, the Town uses about 2,128 acre-feet of water annually, of which 1,528 acre-feet are provided by the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The Town is then responsible for purchasing the additional 600 acre-feet needed to serve its residents, either from another municipality, water company, or investor who has water credits and is willing to sell them. The Town currently has 11,000 acre-feet in water credit savings.
An acre foot of water will cover one full acre, one foot deep, or 43,560 cubic feet or 325,861 gallons.
“There is a possibility there are years where nobody is looking to sell,” said Davidson.
Davidson said if that became the case, the Town would have to turn to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District to purchase its necessary credits, though an unfavorable option.
“The Town has not yet relied on purchasing water through the CAGRD, but that will change over time,” he said. “When people don’t have as much water to hand out, we will have to rely on the CAGRD, and that would be a massive sticker shock to our residents and anyone who moves here.”
Davidson outlined what the expenses associated with the CAGRD would mean for future Marana residents.
As one of the jurisdictions encompassed by the Tucson Active Management Area, the laws of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) bind Marana (among other criteria) to provide a 100-year assured water supply for all new subdivisions to be developed.
The area of North Marana served by the MWTF currently has 33,290 entitled single-family residential lots.
According to Davidson, one acre-foot of water serves approximately three homes annually, meaning the Town would need to secure 11,098 acre-feet of water each year to provide for its entitled lots.
Davidson said if the Town did not own its wastewater facility and relied on the CAGRD for water credits, it would have to pay the CAGRD’s most recently published water credit prices, to the tune of $671 per acre-foot.
When multiplying this figure by the 100-year state-required assured water supply, the Town’s total purchase price per acre-foot would be $67,100. Multiply this by the 11,098 acre-feet needed to provide for the 33,290 entitled single-family residential lots, and the grand total comes to $744,675,800 by the time all of the lots were built out.
“These are real numbers,” said Davidson. “These are approved single-family residentials. When people around the region say we can rely on CAGRD, it’s so far from the truth. If we truly want jobs in this community, if we want people to live here, we have to consider these costs. That’s one of the reasons we are doing this, because it ties into our overall strategy of how to create a sustainable community.”
To spread the would-be costs, Davidson said the Town would need to charge homebuyers an impact fee for water services. When dividing the total water credit expenses by the number of residences to be developed, the impact fee would amount to an astounding $22,369 per household.
Because of these exorbitant expenses, Davidson and Deputy Town Manager Del Post said the only option is to possess a town-owned facility, the costs of which would be greatly reduced due to the availability of effluent.
The MWTF produces about 200 acre-feet of effluent annually, meaning 200 acre-feet per year less in water credits the Town would have to purchase on the market.
According to Deputy Town Manager Del Post, with 200-acre feet of effluent being produced from the facility, and a purchase price of the plant for $15 million, the Town’s cost per permanent acre-foot of effluent would be about $7,500.
“That may seem high to somebody that hasn’t studied this,” said Post. “But for every additional acre foot of water that plant produces, our cost would dramatically decrease, and it decreases pretty quickly. If that plant is producing water at its fullest capacity, then the cost is something like $300 per acre-foot.”
In comparison, the current cost for a 100-year supply for one acre-foot from the CAGRD currently costs about $47,000, said Post.
“This is a matter of whether we own a wastewater plant in our town, and even at today’s rates pay $7,500 for an acre foot for the plant, or we go out on the market and have to buy it for $47,000 an acre-foot, and still not have a permanent certificate of water,” he said.
When considering the Town’s obligation of 11,098 acre-feet to satisfy its 32,290 future single-family residences, the Town would see a return of 6,659 acre-feet if it owned the facility, in turn saving $446,805,480.
“That’s money that we could save instead of spending on the open water market,” said Davidson. “This is a matter of whether or not we have secured, guaranteed water rights for our growth needs.”
Litigation over control of the wastewater facility has been temporarily halted as Marana heads to the Arizona Supreme Court in hopes of combating a previous ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
In that ruling, the Court of Appeals deemed Marana’s 1988 ballot question allowing the Town to be involved in the wastewater business to be too vague. If the Supreme Court overturns the ruling, Marana will no longer need to go to its voters again for approval, and litigation over facility control will resume.