"The Flowing Wells Irrigation District has been going since 1922," says Pauline Eisele. The 80-year-old has called Flowing Wells home since 1973, and she wants her water service left as-is.
Tucson City Council representatives maintain that they agree with Eisele, but their recent actions have sent the opposite signal. In December, the council voted to consider using eminent domain to take over the small water company. They took that step to strengthen their bid to secure an allocation of 1,500 acre-feet of Central Arizona Project water that the Flowing Wells Irrigation District has, but does not need, and that the town of Marana was already seeking.
Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar, who represents some of the Flowing Wells area, was the lone opponent to the approved measure. "I know what our attorney's reasoning was," Dunbar says, "but it got a lot of people upset who didn't need to be."
Mayor Bob Walkup's assistant, Andrew Greenhill, labels the vote as strictly a legal maneuver. "The council's action was more a negotiating stance than a move to acquire (the irrigation district)," Greenhill explains. "That's been made clear throughout the process, and it shouldn't be news to anyone. Tucson does not want to acquire the Flowing Wells Irrigation District."
That message certainly hasn't been communicated to some people living in Flowing Wells; many are enormously concerned about what is going to happen to them.
Della Ochoa, who has resided in the district for 30 years, asks, "Why make this change? I don't understand it. All of a sudden, the city wants our water rights, but I see the city supplying golf courses and other wasters of water. A lot of people can't afford this change. I can't afford it!"
"The cost of water will go up," Eisele agrees, "and that would be one more strain on the camel's back for senior citizens." Plus, she insists, "Our water tastes great now, but I'm afraid the quality would go down if Tucson Water took over."
The fear of paying higher prices for a lower-quality product is a constant refrain from numerous Flowing Wells customers worried about a change in their water provider. Even though the Irrigation District will eventually supplement its existing supply with some less-desirable Colorado River canal water, for now, people strenuously oppose any takeover of their system.
According to a price comparison prepared by the district, the cost of service for low water users from the Flowing Wells system, which serves 15,500 people, is at least one-third cheaper than from goliath Tucson Water. As household usage increases, the price differential escalates dramatically. A Flowing Wells resident who uses 30,000 gallons of water each month pays less than 30 percent of the amount Tucson Water charges a similar customer.
In addition to cost, the high-quality service provided by the Irrigation District is another reason residents cite for opposing a change. "I've used Flowing Wells water for 35 years," says F. Blaine Greenhalgh, "and never had low pressure, and it has always been good water. I have no qualms about drinking it, but don't know if there would be problems with Tucson Water."
The possible use of eminent domain also doesn't sit well with those in Flowing Wells.
"I don't believe the city should force people into Tucson Water," says Jo Fulkerson. "The irrigation district serves people well, and the city should leave us alone."
Dunbar blames Irrigation District Superintendent David Crockett for some of the city's on-going public-relations headaches in this case. She is particularly frustrated with him about a meeting held two weeks ago that attracted almost 500 concerned Flowing Wells residents.
"Crockett misled his customers," Dunbar insists. "He knew what was going on. He knew Tucson Water didn't want to take over the company."
Crockett did not return phone calls seeking comment about Dunbar's allegation.
Last week, representatives from Marana and Tucson conferred with officials from the Arizona Department of Water Resources about their dueling interests in the small CAP allocation. At the end of the meeting, the two sides were asked to submit more information within 30 days.
Mitch Basefsky, spokesman for Tucson Water, says negotiations between the competing water companies to settle the issue amicably continued immediately after the meeting with ADWR. The efforts to reach an agreement are "going fairly well," he says. Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat says only, "The staffs will continue to meet."
The Tucson City Council was given an update about the negotiating process in executive session on Tuesday. Prior to that session, Dunbar expressed hope that the threat of condemnation of the irrigation district will be removed as quickly as possible,
Many Flowing Wells residents hope simply that their little water company will be left alone. As Edward Loveless wrote of the possible use of eminent domain, "To condemn a small company that has been doing good for all these years is one of the lowest forms of thievery that the city of Tucson can do."