Phoenix water pipeline likely to avoid precious preserve lands

Confluence of comprise, advocacy may result in citizen win

Posted 1/19/20

A resolution is in the works to keep a 66-inch water main pipeline off a Phoenix residential street, as a potential partnership with Arizona Department of Transportation is sought, officials …

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Phoenix water pipeline likely to avoid precious preserve lands

Confluence of comprise, advocacy may result in citizen win

A Phoenix Water Services project will most likely still go through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, but an alternative route has been announced to slightly change the plans.
A Phoenix Water Services project will most likely still go through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, but an alternative route has been announced to slightly change the plans.
(Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

A resolution is in the works to keep a 66-inch water main pipeline off a Phoenix residential street, as a potential partnership with Arizona Department of Transportation is sought, officials say.

On Jan. 15, Phoenix Water Services officials announced during a Land Use and Livability Subcommittee meeting that a draft intergovernmental agreement with the state department is being pursued.

The move comes on the heels of four resident petitions being filed through the Phoenix City Clerk’s office to halt, among other things, the proposed Phoenix Water project.

The drought resiliency infrastructure program seeks to install support in areas of northern Phoenix to allow for the distribution of Salt River water in the event of restricted Colorado River water due to a looming drought.

As part of the project, a 66-inch water main was planned through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, around the 20th Street and Maryland Avenue, to 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard areas.

The Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council, a grassroots organization that has been in existence for nearly 50 years, is concerned the proposed pipeline alignment will negatively and irreversibly impact important undisturbed preserve areas and the integrity of the preserve as a whole.

In order for the main to reach the Preserve, it is planned to be installed along 22nd Street, a residential, dead-end street with an elementary school abutting it.

Residents who live on 22nd Street and in surrounding areas banned together in December to ask the Phoenix City Council to slow down and look at alternative routes, expressing concern about safety and procedure.

At that time, the Independent learned talks were in place with ADOT to potentially find an alternative route.

On Jan. 14, Arizona State Representative Aaron Lieberman, of Legislative District 28, announced via Twitter that a draft agreement with ADOT was being announced by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. Mr. Lieberman, who grew up in the area of topic, has been advocating for a solution.

The next day, a Phoenix Land Use and Livability subcommittee meeting was hosted with a scheduled agenda item to accept or deny the four resident petitions submitted on the project.

“Both pipeline projects are integral to health and welfare of residents,” Phoenix Water Services Director Kathryn Sorensen said.

“The city has acted within its authority, and staff does respectfully request denial of citizen petitions. However, if you’ll let us get through to the end of this petition, I think we have some good news and some solutions that will hopefully make many people very happy.”

Although the alternative route was announced, many residents in attendance were not fully satisfied with the resolution. A press release issued prior to the subcommittee meeting read in part:

“Today the City of Phoenix Water Services Department will announce that the Mayor has signed a deal with ADOT to move the northern part of Phase 1 of the pipeline over to the SR highway 51. But still there will be impacts to the preserve and to neighborhoods with narrow streets. Ethically, is this in the City’s best interests?”

A permissible use

The improvements include 12 miles of new pipelines, four booster stations to transport and boost clean water throughout the water distribution system and pressure-reducing-valve stations to regulate and maintain safe water pressure.

The cost is approximately $300 million, which will be funded with revenue generated from a 2019-20 City Council approved water rate increase.

The infrastructure includes:

  • A 66-inch water main coming out of the 24th Street Water Treatment Plan around 20th Street and Maryland to 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard;
  • Replacing an existing 48-inch water main that is at the end of its useful life;
  • Extending the 66-inch main along 32nd Street to Bell Road;
  • Installing a 42-inch main along 35th Avenue from Thunderbird Road to Grovers Avenue; and
  • Installing four large pump stations.

About 97% of Phoenix’s water comes from the Salt and Verde rivers, with about 47% of its water coming from the Colorado River. About 3% of the city’s water is from groundwater.

Construction for the drought resiliency infrastructure program was anticipated to begin this month, prior to concerns raised by the Phoenix Mountain Preserve Council and residents.

The summary of the petition requests were:

  • Stop two projects for a 48-inch pipeline and 66-inch pipeline;
  • City Charter concerns
  • North Phoenix water options
  • Water conservation
  • Alignment study and public input
  • City Council action on projects
  • Oversight hearing

One concern that was raised last winter by the PMPC was the legality of construction taking place within the mountain preserve.

Phoenix City Attorney’s Office officials say they believe it’s allowed.

“We were asked --- the law department was asked --- whether the pipeline could legally go through the mountain preserve. As you know, the Charter protects the preserve for preservation of very specific purposes such as life and native life protection,” Acting Chief Assistant City Attorney Patty Boland said.

“However, the Charter does allow certain uses without the protections being applied for those uses. One of those uses that’s preserved for City Council is the ability to locate city owned flood control or water treatment facilities in the preserve."

Unlike some other uses in the preserve, the Charter does not require specific action by the City Council to approve water treatment facilities, Ms. Boland says.

“So, the question was, can we do a pipeline? Our conclusion was if you can do a water treatment plant you can clearly do any facilities related to water treatment including a pipeline that attaches to a water treatment plant as this one will,” she said.

“So, again the law department feels comfortable that this is a permissible use within the preserve.”

A semi-happy resolution

Ms. Sorenson says the water department has been working with ADOT for the past few months.

The new agreement would allow ADOT to abandon right-of-way and then allow the city to purchase the space.

Officials hope the changes will be around the same cost as their original plans, or provide a savings to the city.

“The new alignment will still head north into the neighborhood along 21st Street alignment, but then at Myrtle [Avenue] it will head west and follow the 20th Street alignment until we’re up into the preserve,” Ms. Sorenson explained of pushing the pipeline west.

“The new ADOT alignment we’re showing here will still go through the preserve, but we’re more along the SR 51 and then moving along the old Dreamy Draw road and bike path.”

The new route will avoid construction and trail access on 22nd Street, as well as stay clear of more pristine area of the mountains, Ms. Sorrenson said.

Timelines have now been altered to start the 66-inch pipeline work in the neighborhood in fall 2020 and ending in summer 2021; and work in the preserve to be January 2021-spring 2022. The 48-inch pipe replacement is now set to begin in March and end in the fall.

A handful of people were allowed to speak at the subcommittee meeting, including Jeannie Swindle who lives on 22nd Street. She thanked the group for listening to the neighbors.

“We have hope that an ADOT agreement will be finalized, and that there is a segment of this pipeline project that will be saved --- saving the neighborhood, as well as the preserve,” Ms. Swindle said.

“However, what we would ask is that there are still portions if you look at the entire project that are of concern to us. If you go back to the beginning where this is starting, two pipes --- is there a way to bring those over to SR 51? Expand potentially the agreement with ADOT to take it up as much as possible on land that’s already been effected.”

The residents in the area felt the pipeline plans were forced upon the neighborhood, with little-to-no public input allowed.

“We do appreciate the opportunity to be involved, and that you’re listening, but for future projects, part of what our plan is to grow Phoenix smarter we would really like to be involved and have communities involved in whatever project you’re working on earlier in the process,” Ms. Swindle said.

“Because it avoids all the work that we made you do, all the anxiety that we had communicated to you.”


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