Water tap

Oro Valley’s town council met in-person on Wednesday, Sept. 8, for the first time since the pandemic hit Arizona to pass new changes to the town’s water code.

Oro Valley’s Water Utility Director Peter Abraham presented in-person at the newly renovated town council chambers on the importance of amending the water code to reflect conservation efforts.

Abraham said the Sept. 8 vote was the last step to a multi-year process. 

“We wanted to insure residents could use their water as they saw fit while also being conscious of this resource,” Abraham said.

The amendments redefine the meaning of water wasting, water code violation penalties, and restrictions that can be put in place during water shortages.

Water code amendments are a proactive response to the recent water shortage declaration made by U.S. officials on Aug. 16, when officials reported that the largest Colorado River reservoir, Lake Mead, had fallen to record lows. Lake Mead’s water supplies the Central Arizona Project (CAP,) which provides Arizona with most of its water supply. However, this declaration would mainly affect Arizona farmers rather than residents.

Even though residents are hardly touched by the new shortage, updating the water code provides Oro Valley’s water utility with the tools to enforce conservation and compliance if CAP resident water shortages occur.

Abraham expressed little concern for water shortages in the Oro Valley community by saying he doesn’t expect to never meet water demand. However, if water shortages did occur, the new water code would allow Oro Valley water utility to set new usage limits and enforce compliance through fines or service shutoff. The code’s new punishments for water wasting would become increasingly more severe for customers who continue to evade utility warnings. 

The code also includes new definitions for water wasting.

“Residents have emailed us pictures saying, ‘Hey, every morning I go by this business and their irrigation is messed up.’ If their irrigation is running down the street and its reoccurring, then that’s textbook water wasting,” Abraham said.

The code draft said the Utility would start penalizing customers by notifying residents several times before charging their accounts with fines. Fines start at $100 and increase to double the monthly bill if water usage isn’t curtailed. After that, the utility could consider shutting off a customer’s water supply.

Mayor Joe Winfield asked Abraham to consider implementing an incentive program for water conservation.

“The pocket book is the best incentive,” Abraham said. Oro Valley water utility has a tiered commodity rate that gives the lowest monthly prices to customers who use between 0 to 7,000 gallons of water a month. Yet, most water customers in Oro Valley fall in this bracket.

Winfield requested Abraham look at introducing new incentive programs for water customers.

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