Residents contend Phoenix water pipeline infringes upon Preserve, neighborhood

Some claim environmental concerns falling on deaf ears

Posted 12/10/19

More concerns with Phoenix Water Services Department’s resiliency infrastructure program are beginning to mount, as local residents affected by construction of a 66-inch water main are banding …

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Residents contend Phoenix water pipeline infringes upon Preserve, neighborhood

Some claim environmental concerns falling on deaf ears


More concerns with Phoenix Water Services Department’s resiliency infrastructure program are beginning to mount, as local residents affected by construction of a 66-inch water main are banding together to seek alternative solutions.

The project first garnered attention when the Phoenix Mountain Preservation Council took issue with the proposed pipeline alignment, stating the project will negatively and irreversibly impact important undisturbed Preserve areas and the integrity of the Preserve as a whole.

Residents have now joined the effort to halt the project, requesting Phoenix Water officials consider alternate routes for the water main and increased discussion on the project. On Dec. 4, more than 40 Phoenix residents attended a City Council meeting to ask elected officials to delay the January 2020 construction.

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

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

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.

While no plans have been made to add the topic to a council agenda, those familiar with the matter say efforts are being made to ask for Arizona Department of Transportation right-of-way to move the water main to run along State Route 51.

Petitions yielding signatures have been submitted to the City Council, who approved design contracts in October 2018 and December 2018, setting the project in motion.

The drought resiliency infrastructure program is a part of the city’s capital improvement program, Deputy Water Services Director Darlene Helm told the Independent in November.

In the event the drought restricts Colorado River usage, the city water department is putting in place a plan to provide water to its residents through other means.

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.

Residents believe several rights-of-way that would not effect residences, are located within 600 feet of the proposed alignment, but were not considered.

A catalyst

Driving up 22nd Street, a stone’s throw away from the base of the Phoenix Mountains, orange yard signs donning the phrase “No Pipeline through Preserve or Our Neighborhoods” are scattered along the local thoroughfare.

The neighbors have banded together in a last-minute effort to not only pause construction plans seeking to disrupt the water main pipeline headed for the natural terrain, but to stop their two-lane residential street --- with only one way in, and one way out --- from being torn up.

Three ladies, among many other neighbors, are pushing forward to ask Phoenix City Council to add the project to an upcoming agenda so they can legally talk about the plans in public. Days before the Dec. 4 City Council meeting, bright orange t-shirts with the same slogan as the signs outdoors are stockpiled on the back of Jeannie Swindle’s couch.

“I would call this our nerve center, but there’s been times it’s the nervous center,” Ms. Swindle said, as she pulled out binders of city documents and literature relating to the Phoenix Water Department.

Ultimately, the neighbors say they want city officials to make infrastructure changes smartly, and are seeking five key items:

  • Press pause and delay the project;
  • Incorporate community input;
  • Enter into dialogue with other entities such as ADOT, SRP and APS;
  • Re-do the alignment study; and
  • Add the drought pipeline project design to a City Council agenda.

The 48-inch main is planned, at this point, to begin in January 2020; while the 66-inch main is planned to begin in August 2020.

“There’s phase 1, phase 2 and a phase 3, so when you talk about, ‘we’re concerned with a small portion’ --- it’s not a small portion --- but the magnitude of the project requires much more attention to community input, as well as environmental impact,” Ms. Swindle said, pointing to construction that spans up to Bell Road.

“This is almost a catalyst right now. Let’s start making us work smarter on these kinds of projects. Because we can be NIMBYs, and we can be environmentalists for the Preserve. But what we really want is, let’s look at this city.”

Neighborhood meeting

Katherine Roxlo says at an October meeting hosted by the Phoenix Water Department at Madison Heights Elementary School, there was not an opportunity for residents to provide input, and reportedly city officials told the residents that the plans were already finalized.

The neighbors have identified a number of issues they see with the water department’s plans, including the neighborhood being a “no-blast” zone; roadway access; environmental impacts on elementary school students; and emergency response times on a torn-up road.

According to Ms. Swindle, the width of 22nd Street is less than what the Phoenix Water Department’s manuals say is recommended for a project of this size. The residents fear construction would spill over onto their properties.

The 2017 manual outlines a water main greater than 30 inches in diameter should use a minimum 80-foot easement.

The sheer size of the water main to be installed creates issues with their plans, Ms. Roxlo says, questioning how a 66-inch pipe would be installed in a 38-foot roadway, with two-lane traffic maintained as well.

“When you’re doing construction with a tunnel, this no longer is a pipeline-type of construction,” Ms. Roxlo said. “A pipeline construction on a main street, which a main water pipeline is on a main street --- it slows the traffic down and people have other alternatives. This project it’s a pipeline but it’s not a pipeline design. It’s a point-of-use end. All of the trucks bringing entire supplies in, removing waste, removing things out for the entire project, will use 22nd Street and 20th Street.”

Additionally, Lisa Marie Smith points out the added accessories typically needed for road construction.

“They might be thinking in their mind that it’s a piece-by-piece construction, which is a rolling construction. However, where’s the truck that’s digging it? Where’s the mound of dirt? Where’s the mound of rock? Where are the trucks hauling?” Ms. Smith asked. “They will be utilizing the street.”

Overall, the impact to the two-lane residential street will be profound, the group contends.

“The impact to a residential street that’s two lanes is much more profound community wise, safety wise, quality of life, then to a four-lane road that will be reduced to two lanes,” Ms. Roxlo said, alleging the Water Department picked the water main route based on length.

The neighborhood group believes some of the studies the Water Department did in preparation for the project --- evaluating impact, counting vehicles --- was not calculated correctly. The elementary school, for example, was closed when they counted the vehicles on the road, they say.

“If you just stop to think about it, the cost directly to residents or business is nothing if it goes through a pristine Preserve,” Ms. Swindle. “So those are moot points. That would automatically reduce what the cost of this route would be, which then could then be used to offset what the cost would be to do drilling, tunneling, and the heavy construction back and forth.”

Sam Stone, chief of staff for Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, says at the city level, no action will happen until ADOT provides a final answer on whether or not they will give up their revocable right-of-way along SR 51. Mr. DiCiccio was unavailable for comment at the time, citing a personal matter.

“We made a push with the water department to go to the state and talk to ADOT,” Mr. Stone said.

“If they give up their revocable right-of-way it solves a lot of issues. But we won’t know until we hear from them.”

In the meantime, the Phoenix residents surrounding the pipeline project have planned to “Walk the Pipeline” at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14. The walk starts at the southwest corner of Granada Park, at 20th Street and Maryland Avenue in Phoenix.

Preparation for resiliency in a hotter, drier future

Phoenix Water Services Department Public Information Officer Vielka Atherton says the drought pipeline project is still in the design phase, but there may be more information coming soon.

“The City of Phoenix is currently in conversations (with other agencies) to explore other alignment options, but at this time there are no updates,” Ms. Atherton said. “We hope to know more at the beginning of the year.”

As for how construction on 22nd Street would operate, Ms. Atherton says under the current alignment there would be some restrictions along the roadway between Myrtle Avenue and Belmont Avenue as crews install the 66-inch water main.

“At this time, Phoenix Water is working on the details of the restrictions, but will maintain at least one traffic lane so that residents and emergency vehicles will have access to and from the area,” Ms. Atherton said. “Phoenix Water will use various methods to inform the public about traffic restrictions, such as construction notices, street signs, electronic sign messaging, construction flaggers, the Phoenix Water Services website and the Phoenix Street Department website.”

Overall, Ms. Atherton says the pipeline project is part of the city’s preparation for resiliency in a hotter, drier future.

“The improvements will provide more flexibility to move water supplies to areas that are currently entirely dependent on Colorado River water,” she said.

“New and improved infrastructure will ensure Phoenix Water can provide clean, reliable drinking water for all customers, no matter where they fall in the service area. The Drought Pipeline Project is essential to the economic health and vitality of Phoenix.”