TUCSON - The city of Tucson has denied water service to four projects in unincorporated areas under a tough policy that has changed the way City Hall treats such requests.
Until the policy shift, the city routinely served water to any developer requesting it. The new policy denies water to developments outside existing city service areas.
City officials say they're sticking to this policy until they and Pima County can reach a consensus on how to satisfy water needs in growing areas. A city-county advisory committee has been meeting for six months to seek that consensus. It's scheduled to finish by September.
City Manager Mike Hein said that while the water policy isn't intended to control growth, it is aimed at stimulating discussion about how far out the city should serve new development and how far the metro area should grow.
Sean Sullivan, a city planning commissioner and an environmentalist serving on the advisory committee, said the policy is good because there is as yet no real regional cooperation on water and wastewater.
"There's a finite amount of water currently here, a certain amount that can be served without negatively impacting the environment," Sullivan said. "Until the city and county get on board with land-use decisions determining what that threshold is, Tucson Water needs to take stock and hold back."
Some outside experts question whether it makes sense for the city to deny service to developers in unincorporated areas who can then form service areas and drill their own wells to serve themselves.
Such new wells would go against efforts by local and state governments to push the use of Central Arizona Project water from a more renewable supply, the Colorado River.
"I don't see that it accomplishes anything unless it's sort of a blackmail technique," said Priscilla Robinson, a retired Tucson Water consultant and environmental activist. "Limiting water to control growth is not very practical. All water law in this state has been written so it can't be used to control growth."
The policy triggered a recent legal claim for $46.25 million by the developer of a property in the Tucson Mountain foothills that was denied water.
The developer of the 260-home Painted Hills project said the city is wrong and that this project would lie inside the service area.
The city has frustrated other developers by turning down a 3,500-home project and two industrial parcels.