/ Modified apr 18, 2016 4:24 p.m.

Tucson Water Plans Expanded Use of Treated Wastewater

Long-term water supply requires multiple sources, water director says.

Tucson Water will ask the City Council later this year to approve a rate increase to continue to improve aging infrastructure.

Further in the future, the water department has plans to expand the use of recycled water, including what's commonly referred to as "toilet-to-tap" or potable use.

That could happen in the next 10 years, said Tucson Water Director Timothy Thomure, in a Metro Week interview.

non potable irrigation water focus large

Recycled Water Plans
"We're always looking to increase our use of our recycled water, beginning with expansions of our reclaimed water system," Thomure said.

First, what's the difference between recycled and reclaimed water?

Reclaimed water: non-potable use of recycled water, mostly now used for irrigation at parks, golf courses and other places with a lot of grass.

Recycled water: any type of recycled use, non-potable or potable in the future. Tucson doesn't have an immediate need to use treated wastewater for human consumption yet.

Tucson Water's first step in using more treated wastewater is public outreach, Thomure said. That's a lesson the city learned from past experience when it converted from groundwater to Central Arizona Project water for its main supply.

"We're not waiting until the future need comes up and try to have a rushed conversation about it and implement something," he said. "We want to have a continuous conversation about it, whether it's for five, 10 or 20 years, right up until we would implement it."

And Tucson isn't the only community considering toilet-to-tap for a future drinking water source.

As the Colorado River supply declines in drought, and groundwater remains fragile resource for fear of over-pumping, it's one of several remaining options for water, Thomure said.

"Over the next five years you're going to see a number of communities implementing these programs. We're lucky in that we don't need that supply quite yet, and we can learn a lot from how these other communities implement it," Thomure said, especially in community conversations.


Rate Increase Proposals
Tucson Water needs to raise rates to keep up with rising infrastructure costs. Simply, old pipes need to be replaced before they break, Thomure said.

"Even if there's no increased water demand, we have an increasing need in our maintenance and replacement programs," he said.

The way Tucson uses water has also changed, which affects the department's budget and planning.

"We have a method of pricing our water that's based on some fundamental assumptions that were true 10 years ago," Thomure said. "We used to be a very fast-growing community with a very fast-growing demand for water...what we've converted to is a still relatively fast-growing community with a flat water demand."

Tucson customers use the same amount of water as they did 10-15 years ago, so Thomure said the department plans to spend the next two years analyzing the effect that has on the department budget. Its goal is to phase in rate increases, so they are small, but potentially often, he said, rather than implementing occasional, large jumps in cost.

The department is proposing two options to the city for a rate increase. One would raise the average monthly residential bill by $2.50, and the other would raise it by $2.69 a month. The Tucson City Council can choose one of those options, or suggest an alternative, or decide not to raise rates at all.

There are public meetings to get public feedback on the proposal this month.

April 20, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Tucson Parks & Recreation Building, Mesquite Room
900 S. Randolph Way

April 25, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
El Pueblo Activity Center
101 W. Irvington Rd.

April 26, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Quincie Douglas Public Library, Meeting Room
1585 E. 36th St.

April 28, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Tucson Water Eastside Service Center
10445 E. Golf Links Rd.

Also on Metro Week

The journalists roundtable discusses the future of water.
- Linda Valdez of the Arizona Republic talks about two bills in the Legislature that would change the water assurances developers must make before building in some counties.
- Tom Beal of the Arizona Daily Star discusses the lessons the city learned the last time it changed its water supply.
- Vanessa Barchfield of Arizona Public Media discusses calls for University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart to resign from her position.

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