Marana is a town founded on self-determination. The farmers and ranchers who organized incorporation efforts in the 1970s did so because they didn’t believe outside interests should determine the future of their community. Although they may not have called it such, those early Marana residents were fulfilling the concept of home rule.
Our maturing community took another important step toward home rule June 9, when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kristin Hoffman ruled that Marana owns the wastewater conveyance system within the town limits. This ruling gives Marana the opportunity to use the valuable water reclaimed from the wastewater system the same way that so many other Arizona municipalities do.
Southern Arizona’s arid climate and Marana’s small Central Arizona Project water allocation have required Marana to serve groundwater to its customers. One way to gain the right to pump groundwater is by using reclaimed water, or effluent, from wastewater treatment facilities to replace the water taken from the ground. State law requires a gallon of water to be recharged to the aquifer for every gallon of water drawn from the ground. Many municipalities meet this requirement by recharging reclaimed water.
State law also provides that the owner of a wastewater treatment facility owns the rights to the effluent it produces. Judge Hoffman’s ruling that Marana owns the pipes and pumps that carry wastewater within the town limits means Marana can now choose to treat the wastewater at its facilities. Marana’s commitment to the community is to provide 100 percent beneficial use of reclaimed water to support the town’s residents and businesses and improve the natural environment. Treating effluent at a town-owned facility gives Marana the rights to the effluent, which ultimately reduces water resource costs to current and future residents.
Still under review in Maricopa County Superior Court is a small, temporary plant in northwestern Marana that Pima County claims to own. Regardless of how Judge Hoffman rules, Marana is moving forward with plans to build a better and more efficient plant to reclaim 100 percent of the water from the town’s system.
Marana and Pima County signed an agreement in 1979 allowing the county to operate wastewater service in Marana simply because the town was not large enough to manage the system on its own. According to the agreement, the town needed to give the county six months’ notice when it wanted to end the agreement. The town provided that notice last July. When the county failed to turn over the conveyance system to Marana, the town was forced to seek relief in court.
During its operation of Marana’s system, Pima County received connection fees from Marana residents to pay for the capacity needed at treatment plants to process wastewater from the town’s system. Marana residents also pay Pima County each month for the costs associated with treating wastewater and developers have already built and paid for the pipes. Town leaders are eager to meet with Pima County to develop a transition plan outside the courtroom.
Wastewater service to Marana citizens will continue without interruption. Town staff has spent the past year laying the technical foundation for taking over the wastewater operations: an engineering basin study that identifies the optimal locations for a new plant, a rate study that shows the town can provide service at an affordable price, and a contract with a company to run the wastewater system.
Marana citizens want what is best for their community, just as people in other cities and towns want what is right for their communities. Together, as equal partners seeking a regional solution, we can make Southern Arizona the best place in which to live. Everyone is entitled to a voice in the process. This ruling gives that to Marana.
Ed Honea is Marana’s mayor and the third of five generations of his family to grow up in the town.