Jan 22, 2020

Tucson Negotiating to Amend Old Water Agreement

Tucson, Arizona, is negotiating with the U.S. EPA to amend an old agreement.

water quality

The city of Tucson, Arizona, is putting off suing to force cleanup of its per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-tainted groundwater, reported Arizona Daily Star

By unanimous city council vote on Jan. 7, city officials will seek to negotiate a cleanup with U.S. EPA, the state, the Defense Department and other parties, according to Mayor Regina Romero.

The council is also backing away from its initial proposed ordinance banning anyone from using or disposing of PFAS compounds within the city. Attorneys determined the city can’t legally ban use of PFAS by federal entities such as the Defense Department, reported Arizona Daily Star. Instead, the council will concentrate on getting legislation to stop anyone from dumping PFAS compounds into the ground.

The city will also work with Pima County wastewater officials to seek a ban on disposal of PFAS into the county sewer system following severe contamination of Tucson’s south-side groundwater by PFAS compounds.

Romero and Assistant City Attorney Chris Avery are confident that cleanup money will become available through a series of bills and regulatory efforts now moving through the federal government, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

Tucson Water is also negotiating with the EPA to amend an old agreement that requires the city to serve more than 5,800 acre-feet of water annually cleaned by its plant near the Interstate 19-Irvington Road interchange. 

The requirement that the city serve water from the treatment plant dates back to a 1988 consent order that the city and EPA signed for the plant, reported Arizona Daily Star. This order was designed to insure removal from south-side groundwater of trichloroethylene, which polluted several drinking wells in the 1970s.

The city council voted Jan. 7 to support the amendment effort.

A key reason for this decision is to ensure the city is never required to sell customers water from the Tucson Airport Remediation Project (TARP) in the event the plant is overloaded by PFAS. The PFAS compounds are migrating through the aquifer toward south-side wells in very heavy concentrations, and these wells already send water with lesser PFAS levels to the plant for cleanup, reported Arizona Daily Star.

A consent-order change is needed in the event that the PFAS compounds overload the TARP plant before officials can raise money to clean the groundwater. Lower levels of PFAS contamination were discovered in wells serving the TARP plant and the city has repeatedly changed its carbon filters to provide more effective treatment, at a cost of $1.75 million, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

“We are working with the State of Arizona, the City, and others to evaluate and address the identified areas of PFAS groundwater contamination. We aim to effectively capture and clean up groundwater contamination at the site to protect public health and the environment,” said the EPA in an email

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