Water is and always will be our most precious natural resource. We live in a state where acquiring water is challenging, expensive and, sometimes, almost impossible.
As a growing town that also has a water utility, Marana must find cost-efficient ways to offset the expense of acquiring water for our residents and businesses. When shares of Central Arizona Project water were allocated more than 30 years ago, the Town of Marana’s needs were meager, so our portion was small. Our Town has fought an uphill battle for water resources ever since.
Marana experienced tremendous economic growth between 2000 and 2010, increasing from about 13,000 residents to nearly 35,000. Today, Marana’s water utility serves more than 14,000 people and that number will continue growing. In preparing for the future, we want to make sure we have enough water while keeping our rates affordable for today and tomorrow.
A big part of the solution is to use the full life cycle of the water we have, including wastewater. Much of the water we deliver is pumped from the healthy, abundant water table that nature stores beneath our community. But we can’t continue tapping that resource without replacing it with renewable resources, including recycled water.
To make the best use of wastewater, through recharge projects that replenish the water table, Marana has a priority of acquiring a treatment system. According to state law, the entity that owns a wastewater plant owns the water produced there.
That’s why the Town last decade began working to acquire and operate the wastewater system in Northwest Marana. The community’s needs were much different in 1979 when Marana’s leaders agreed to let Pima County manage the system on the Town’s behalf. Marana was a young community with different priorities. Things have changed over the years and now it’s clear that wastewater is a critical part of the Town’s long-term water portfolio.
This wastewater system in Northwest Marana serves an area with tremendous economic growth potential. Our Town’s vision there includes a revitalized, vibrant downtown with shops, restaurants and multiple housing options. Marana hasn’t had a downtown since the 1960s, when Interstate 10 was built over the heart of our community.
For the past decade, developers have expressed great enthusiasm in partnering with Marana on a new and revitalized town center. Much of the developable land between the Marana Road and Tangerine Road exits on I-10 are close to the interstate, offering valuable frontage property. While interest stalled during the recent recession, there are a number of development professionals who have expressed renewed interest in the vision.
Presently, anyone who wants to do business in this part of Marana works with Pima County on wastewater and with the Town on everything else related to development. If we owned the wastewater system, we would control and have responsibilities for all aspects of development in Northwest Marana.
The Town and Pima County officials are working on the details of a settlement offer that would result in Marana ownership of the wastewater system, provided voters give their authorization during next month’s election. The Town would buy the system using funds from impact fees to be paid by future customers. It’s planned that 20 percent of the cost of the wastewater system would be incurred by current Marana residents and business owners through their monthly rates. This percentage is similar to what Pima County plans to charge if the operation of the plant is turned back to the county.
Even if the Town continues operating the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility, Pima County will continue providing wastewater service to other parts of Marana, including Arizona Pavilions, Continental Ranch and Dove Mountain.
If Marana voters grant their approval for the Town to own and operate a wastewater system, the Town will assume an enterprise to which it has given years of forethought and planning. There will be benefits to gain and responsibilities to accept. But water is hard to come by, even with an abundant water table beneath us. Owning a wastewater system will enable Marana to have maximum use of another valuable water resource as the Town prepares for growth that will inevitably come.
Marana is a great town in which to live and do business. People want to raise their families, start their businesses or spend their retirement years in a Town that is beautiful and well-run. Marana’s leaders would like to become the type of full-service community that all of us can call home.
(Editors Note: Gilbert Davidson is Marana’s town manager.)