Tucson Trades Water Rights For $44 Million In Federal Infrastructure Funds

Tucson Trades Water Rights For $44 Million In Federal Infrastructure Funds

By Corinne Murdock |

The city of Tucson traded its water rights in return for $44 million in federal funding that will help pay for infrastructure. 

The federal government agreed to pay the city $400 for every acre-foot of water conserved — the city traded away 110,000 acre-feet through 2025. 

The city struck the deal with the federal government through provisions within last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The White House announced in April that it would use $15.4 billion from the IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to combat drought. $4 billion of IRA funding was designated specifically for water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin. 

Mayor Regina Romero said the trade qualified Tucson as the “standard in water conservation.” 

In order to receive the $400 per acre-foot in funding, Tucson signed onto a three-year agreement for conservation. This agreement made up the first component of the federal funding opportunity through the newly-established Lower Colorado Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program (LC Conservation Program). 

Other options for funding included a one-year agreement for $330 per acre-foot and a two-year agreement for $365 per acre-foot.

Earlier this month, Gov. Katie Hobbs joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo in a pact to conserve three million acre-feet over the next three years. That totals $1.2 billion in federal funding.

The second component of the program consists of proposals for additional water conservation and efficiency projects, which the Department of the Interior (DOI) disclosed could involve “a variety of pricing options.” Proposals for this program component closed last November.

The third program component concerns proposals for “long-term system efficiency improvements” that would result in a “multi-year system conservation.” Proposals for this program component are currently open according to the DOI website, though former DOI public communications indicated that this component was scheduled to close earlier this year.

The DOI issued a letter last week in an attempt to spur interest in participation with the third program component. 

The DOI noted that successful conservation efforts would include results in quantifiable, verifiable water savings in Lake Mead based on consumptive use reduction and recent history of use; addition of new water to the applicant’s water supply, enabling a consumptive use reduction of Colorado River water; submission from a Colorado River water delivery contract, entitlement holders, or Central Arizona Project water delivery contractor subcontract holders, including partnerships with those entities; demonstration of viability for full implementation, including by demonstrating financial and technical capability of the entity for initial implementation and long-term operations, maintenance, and replacement; and provision of monitoring to ensure the proposed benefits to the system are realized.

Recipients of the DOI’s encouragement-to-apply letter included the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Arizona State Land Department, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, EPCOR Water Arizona, and the University of Arizona.

Senior White House and DOI officials traveled to Arizona — as well as California, Colorado, and Nevada — to broker deals for water conservation efforts in April. 

As part of the deal, the Biden administration set aside $233 million for the Gila River Indian Community, $36 million for Coachella Valley conservation, $20 million for four small surface water storage and groundwater storage projects in California and Utah, and over $54 million to repair aging water delivery infrastructure such as the Imperial Dam.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

The Defeat Of Prop 412 Is An Important Win For Freedom, But The Battle Is Not Over Yet

The Defeat Of Prop 412 Is An Important Win For Freedom, But The Battle Is Not Over Yet

By the Arizona Free Enterprise Club |

Last week, Tucson residents exercised common sense by overwhelmingly rejecting Prop 412 in a special election. And whether you live in the city or not, this is a significant win for our future.

Disguised as a new agreement between the City of Tucson and Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to renew the Franchise Agreement for another 25 years using the current 2.25% fee, the proposal included a number of Green New Deal pet projects. Had it passed, it would have added a 0.75% “Community Resilience Fee” to fund the costs associated with building underground transmission facilities—and “projects that support the City’s implementation of the City’s approved Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.”

That would have meant:

  • Lengthy construction projects removing driving lanes from roads (Road Diets)
  • Permanently inhibiting access to small businesses
  • Reducing personal vehicles by 40% by 2050
  • Establishing Tucson as a 15-minute city with local travel restrictions removing personal choice

Now, the citizens of Tucson have spoken. And it’s clear that they don’t want Green New Deal mandates that take money from their wallet and freedom from their lives.

But make no mistake about it. TEP and its leftist ally Major Regina Romero are committed to their “climate change” agenda…


Tucson City Council To Increase Water Rates To Incentivize Water Conservation

Tucson City Council To Increase Water Rates To Incentivize Water Conservation

By Corinne Murdock |

The Tucson City Council began the process for increasing residents’ water rates in order to incentivize greater water conservation. The council motioned in a study session on Tuesday to increase rates by reclassifying winter months, which have lower rates, into summer months. 

A customer’s water usage over the winter months determines the Average Winter Consumption (AWC), which is charged at a year-round base rate; in the summer months, water usage between 101 to 145 percent of AWC is billed at a higher rate, and over 145 percent at an even higher rate.

The rate increase comes at the behest of the water efficiency and conservation program goals outlined in the city’s Natural Environment Plan. On Tuesday, the city approved Options 1A and 1B to restructure water rates. Those options direct city staff to proceed with the rate adoption process, commence a notice of public intent with a 60-day public outreach and communication hearing prior to a public hearing and rate adoption.

Councilman Kevin Dahl said the water crisis defined by PFAs in the water supply and the Colorado Water River drought necessitated the restructuring of rates. Dahl also claimed that the rate restructure would create equitable change, noting that wealthier entities like homeowners associations and golf courses pay lower water rates while larger families and garden owners pay more. 

Rather than allow the traditional policy process, which would take four or five months per proposed change, Dahl moved to expedite both options together rather than separately. The council adopted his motion. 

“We need to have a quick start on this,” said Dahl.

The 1A option changes winter months from the current definition of six months to three months. The 1B option then adds on another tier, greater than 145 percent, to the block structure. City staff explained that 1A allows the commercial and industrial class to get used to the three-month winter quarter average for several years, then follow up to determine conservation effectiveness. 

Councilman Paul Cunningham said that he appreciated the notice of public intent and hearing, sharing that it alleviated his concerns that residents would experience “sticker shock” over the hike in water rates.

“This is the direction we’re going. We might as well be transparent about it,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham voiced concern over the possibility of specialized rates for different businesses. He also brought up a desire to establish conservation-compliant water parks in the city, noting that they lose residents in the summer to the water parks housed in surrounding cities and states. 

“Water, like it or not, is becoming a commodity and is becoming a quantifiable and limited resource,” said Cunningham. 

Mayor Regina Romero called the city’s water situation “bleak.” Vice Mayor Steve Kozachik concurred. 

“Our goal is to send a strong conservation signal,” said Kozachik. 

Tucson hasn’t been the only city to hike its water rates for conservation’s sake. The city of Phoenix proposed increasing water rates over the next year by a minimum of 25 percent.

Watch the city council discussion of the water rates here:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Tucson Votes To Make Public Transit Free Indefinitely

Tucson Votes To Make Public Transit Free Indefinitely

By Corinne Murdock |

Tucson taxpayers are likely to be on the hook for the costs of public transit indefinitely.

The city council voted last Tuesday to make public transit free for good, according to Councilman Steve Kozachik, after three years of not charging for transportation services.

Kozachik clarified to the University of Arizona (UArizona) student newspaper that the council’s actions last week meant that they wouldn’t reinstate transit fares until the council took an affirmative vote to do so. 

The council voted to extend free public transit through this December during last Tuesday’s study session at a cost of $4.6 million. According to Kozachik, this motion was within the context of the council’s true intention to keep public transit free indefinitely. 

The council also moved to establish a task force of stakeholders to determine how to keep public transit free. Mayor Regina Romero expressed concern that the council was essentially kicking the can down the road.

“To be honest, we’re moving the item every six months, and so I think we really need to figure out what is the long-term solution,” said Romero. “If we don’t have long-term funding options, then we need to start talking about what’s a fair fare. We just need to make sure that we do have the possible stakeholders and investors in the system.”

Councilman Steve Kozachik cautioned that this strategy of holding out to inspire funding from stakeholders was likely to backfire. He added that it was “highly improbable” the council would actually move to reinstate fares after December.

“I don’t agree that us treading water on the decision about fares is necessary to get the other stakeholders to the table. I don’t agree with that as a negotiating strategy,” said Kozachik. 

Councilman Paul Cunningham raised the concern that the task force may not actually accomplish its appointed task of sourcing adequate funding or structuring the reinstatement of fares, pointing back to a three-year trend over the COVID-19 pandemic of alleged complacency and falling behind on goals due to virtual meetings.

“As much as I wish I was Obi-Wan Kenobi who could, like, use the Force to see what’s going to unfold, I can’t,” said Cunningham.

The council opted to maintain their position of free public transit, despite not having funding secured beyond December. Current funding sources for the remainder of the year, totaling $4.1 million — a $486,000 deficit, which Tucson will cover through the public Investment Plan funds — come from hotel and motel taxes, the Tucson Medical Center partnership, SunTran efficiency expense reductions, and a Visit Tucson funding formula adjustment.

UArizona also gave about $780,000 gleaned from student fees to fund the public transit. However, the estimated annual cost of public transit reaches around $11 million.

Some council members also mentioned that they’re attempting to tap Raytheon for long-term funding.

Prior to this year, federal COVID-19 relief funds covered the transit costs. Fares were scheduled to resume on January 1 of this year, but the city opted to source funds to cover the cost. 

Back in December, the council considered additional parking garage fees or property taxes to cover the transit costs.

Tucson isn’t the first city to attempt totally free transit in the state, let alone in the country. Phoenix’s Valley Metro offers free busing for its neighborhood circulators, and the first year of its streetcar services is free. The city also subsidized a limited number of free public transit passes in 2021 using $1 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

There are dozens of other cities around the country, as well as university campuses, that offer free public transit. 

As AZ Free News reported just prior to the Tucson City Council’s most recent decision, community members have criticized the three-year-long trial run of free public transit as more of a burden than a help. Locals have complained to several media outlets that the free transit enables criminal behavior and public nuisances. 

Unionized bus drivers have also complained, claiming that free transit has lowered the quality of passengers and required them to become the “transit police.” 

Watch the Tucson City Council study session here:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Tucson Voters Reject Prop 412, Franchise To TEP

Tucson Voters Reject Prop 412, Franchise To TEP

By Daniel Stefanski |

Tucson voters delivered a resounding defeat to Mayor Regina Romero and her support of Proposition 412.

On Tuesday, results were released for the special election, showing Prop 412 receiving 28,084 (44.7%) votes in favor versus 34,712 (55.3%) votes in opposition. Voter turnout for the City of Tucson’s contest hovered around 21.69%.

Prop 412 would have granted “a franchise to Tucson Electric Power (TEP) Company for the purpose of providing electric transmission and distribution services within the City of Tucson for which the City of Tucson will receive a franchise fee and other consideration.” The “other consideration” would have come, in part, in the form of a “Community Resilience Fee” to fund Tucson’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which was an effort to achieve “carbon neutrality for City operations by 2030.”

Mayor Romero, who had been one of the strongest proponents of Prop 412, released a statement after the results confirmed the worst: “TEP and the City put together a franchise agreement that tried to be responsive to the different needs our community was asking for, like undergrounding, investing in climate resiliency and creating EV infrastructure in public rights of way. I respect the voters’ decision not to approve.”

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kevin Thompson, one of Arizona’s few Republican statewide officeholders at the moment, reacted to the news from southern Arizona, telling AZ Free News, “Tucson voters rightfully demonstrated they understood the ramifications of mixing political pet projects under the guise of essential utility contract service requirements. This is a good outcome for ratepayers and a step towards returning these important decisions to the Corporation Commission where they belong.”

Merissa Hamilton, a grassroots leader in Arizona, tweeted her analysis of the Tucson election result, writing, “This vote is significant because it was the Public’s chance to make their voice heard on Romero’s tyrannical climate action agenda.”

One of the main issues that caused contention over this proposal was the insertion of the community resilience fee of 0.75% of all applicable revenues of TEP – in addition to the 2.25% Franchise Fee. This new fee would have been collected and disbursed for “funding costs associated with the underground installation of new TEP Facilities or conversion to underground of existing TEP facilities currently installed overhead; and projects that support the City’s implementation of the City’s approved Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.” This fee picked up opposition from both sides of the political aisle.

The Pima County Republican Party had fiercely lobbied against Prop 412 and cheered on its defeat. In a Facebook post, the Party stated, “WE DID IT!! Thank you to our LD’s and our incredible volunteers. CONGRATULATIONS to every volunteer and every candidate who helped us fight this Marxist proposal.”

The community resilience charge hasn’t been the only fee that TEP is attempting to pass along to its Southern Arizona consumers. Earlier last year, TEP submitted an application to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), proposing a rate increase of 11.8% to take effect no later than September 1, 2023. TEP informed the Commission that “the new rates are intended to result in an increase in retail revenues of approximately $136 million.” According to reports, TEP customers’ bills would increase more than $14 each month should the ACC sign off on the request.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.