Bringing Water to Arizona Desert Proves Costly for Tucson Residents Voters Approve Bond to Solve Corrosion from Colorado River Water

Article excerpt

SEVEN months after complaints of brown, smelly water, burst pipes, broken appliances, ruined carpets, and dead plants forced the city to take thousands of customers off of Central Arizona Project (CAP) water, Tucson voters have approved a $114.5 million bond issue for the water department.

City leaders say the May 17 vote is proof that, despite its problems, Tucsonans realize that it is neither cheap nor easy to water the desert. State and federal laws mandate that Tucson stop depleting its groundwater by early next century, and the CAP, a concrete aqueduct that carries Colorado River surface water 340 miles across the desert to Tucson, Phoenix, and other Arizona users, is the city's only alternative.

"The system is broken, it's going to cost money to fix it, and the voters saw the importance of doing that," City Councilman Bruce Wheeler says. Bursting pipes

For now, the city is investigating a variety of options to make CAP water more palatable, including blending it with groundwater or building a filtration system. A study of the options and their costs is due early next year. The successful bond election also means that Tucson can begin replacing 200 miles of old water mains that have proved vulnerable to the ravages of CAP water.

The $4 billion CAP project, although a technological and political triumph for Arizona, plunged Tucson into crisis soon after half the city, about 84,000 homes, began receiving water from it in November 1992.

Thousands of customers, especially those in older homes, found their pipes and appliances could not take the sudden switch from ground to surface water with almost three times the mineral content. The corrosive CAP water loosened sealed rust, causing pipes and water heaters to burst and flood homes.

"They told us it would be hard, but not this hard," says Elinor Marcek, who claims $3,000 in damage to pipes in her home. Ms. Marcek, one of 47,000 customers still on CAP water, headed a group opposed to the bonds.

Other residents have complained of tap water that smells like rotten eggs and looks like iced tea. They say it has given them skin rashes, stained their laundry and fixtures, corroded dishwashers and evaporative coolers, and killed plants and fish. …