TUCSON, Ariz. - Late one fall night in 1992, car dealer Bob Beaudry awoke to the sound of water gushing from a burst pipe. The water spilling into his basement, bedrooms and his front and back yards came from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a long-awaited, $4.7 billion concrete canal that runs 330 miles from the river through the desert to Tucson (HCN, 5/17/93).
CAP was built to cure Tucson of a
half-century-old addiction to overpumping groundwater. For 45
years, city officials and the state's congressional delegation had
lobbied Congress to build the canal. But when the water arrived, it
came out of the faucet rusty brown and it tasted
And, as Bob Beaudry discovered, it ate
holes in pipes. He says he learned later that a chemical the city
used to treat the water also left more than 100 of his goldfish
Within 18 months of CAP's arrival, tens
of thousands of complaints from homeowners convinced the Tucson
Water Department to turn the project off. In 1995, residents voted
to ban the city from delivering CAP water directly to homes. Since
then, city water officials have paid $2 million to homeowners to
replace rotted pipes and ruined hot water heaters, and $200 million
to replace city water mains.
But CAP is back.
Tucson Water wants to let CAP water seep into the ground west of
the city, blend it with groundwater and then pump it into city
pipes. The proposal has evoked strong reactions, and this fall,
they overflowed into two major elections. Some say the outcome of
this protracted conflict will decide the future not only of the
Central Arizona Project, but of Tucson
A car dealer leads the
Bob Beaudry, galvanized by his experience
with CAP water back in 1992, is determined to keep CAP water out of
the city's water system. He has poured $300,000 into newspaper and
TV ads to support a ballot initiative that would extend and
strengthen the 1995 ban on project
Beaudry's Proposition 200 would forbid the
city to deliver CAP water to homes unless it spent the megabucks
necessary to treat the water to match the quality of its best
groundwater. The proposal would require a 5-2 city council majority
to raise water rates. It would also require the city to pour some
of its CAP water into normally dry rivers and washes. That could
recharge underground aquifers and battle subsidence and the
collapsing, cracking ground caused by overpumping
Excess CAP water can go to industry,
says Beaudry, who has put more than $1 million behind anti-CAP
initiatives since 1995. That would leave more pure groundwater for
drinking. "If you had a king who said, "Give the best, purest
groundwater to people and give the poorer quality water to mines,
golf courses and other businesses," you could make it work," says
Beaudry. "But if I were (king, and said) the citizens will drink
(Colorado) river water and the groundwater goes to the farms and
the mines, I wouldn't last five minutes."
Beaudry's proposition has drawn strong
opposition from water policy leaders, politicians and businessmen
who call it punitive, technically unrealistic and probably illegal.
One of the major arguments comes from developers who say that
without CAP water, their plans for subdivisions, suburbs and
industry will dry up.
In order for the city to
approve any new subdivision, it must have a stamp of approval from
the state, confirming that the city has a 100-year water supply.
But Tucson is pumping groundwater more than twice as fast as
rainfall replenishes it. Proposition 200 would make it difficult or
impossible to use its alternative to groundwater: CAP water.
Without CAP, Tucson doesn't have a 100-year
water supply, and no water supply means no new subdivisions.
"The whole economic viability of this community
would suffer if you put a limit on what areas can and can't be
developed" because of a lack of water, says Elaine Nathanson,
director of a business-funded, nonprofit local water advisory group
called the Tucson Regional Water
Sprawled if you do,
sprawled if you don't?
Developers have a lot of
clout in this booming town (HCN, 1/18/99), and many politicians
have joined them in opposing Proposition 200. Not Democratic
mayoral candidate Molly McKasson, a charismatic former actress and
a longtime crusader against urban sprawl. As a Tucson city
councilwoman, McKasson fought unsuccessfully to slap impact fees on
new developments on the city's edge to pay for roads and water
lines. Now, she supports Beaudry's Proposition 200, calling it an
imperfect vehicle for sparking a debate over
She contends that the city could support
some growth by trading CAP water to neighboring farms and copper
mines in return for their clean groundwater. By rejecting
Proposition 200 and allowing Tucson to use project water, she
warns, residents may unintentionally drive newcomers out to
neighboring towns that still use clean
"Proposition 200 is not the full
answer," McKasson told a resident of one of the city's aging
neighborhoods as she campaigned door-to-door. "But so far, we have
not investigated all our options, and if we don't take this
opportunity now, we never will."
In almost any
other circumstance, McKasson might be a runaway favorite in a city
with a nearly 2-1 Democratic voter registration edge. But the
election may be close. McKasson has angered developers, bankers,
car dealers, homebuilders, contractors and other business leaders,
who say they'll spend up to $1 million on a "Stop Prop 200"
They have poured thousands of dollars
into the campaign of McKasson's opponent, retired aerospace
executive and Republican Bob Walkup. "Water is our number-one
issue," says Walkup. During his stint as chair of the city's
non-profit economic development corporation, many new industries
chose not to locate in Tucson because of the water question, he
says. "The vitality of our community demands a solid, long-term
water policy, and everyone knows that."
and his allies argue that Proposition 200 would encourage growth,
because if the city doesn't use CAP water, suburbs will. "Everyone
complains about urban sprawl," said Rick Krivel, treasurer for the
anti-Prop 200 Coalition for an Assured Water Supply. But if
Proposition 200 passes, "we are going to be faced with sprawl like
we've never seen."
Tony Davis reports on
growth and development issues for the Arizona Daily
You can contact
* McKasson for Mayor head- quarters,
* Elaine Nathanson, director of the
Tucson Regional Water Council, 520/881-3939;
Bob Walkup for Mayor headquarters,
* Bob Beaudry,