A newly awarded $15 million state loan will ensure that Marana has the money to design and build two plants to clean up contaminated water serving more than one-third of its total customers, town officials say.
The loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority will provide Marana with money to start construction on schedule next August, said John Kmiec, Marana’s water utility director. The plants are scheduled to be finished and online by June 2020.
If the loan proceeds as planned, it will close on Jan. 25, 2019, and the first repayment would be due on July 1, said Richard Mendolia, an environmental program manager for the state water authority. The final payment date would be July 1, 2038, he said.
Town officials have gone to court to try to recover some of the cleanup costs. They haven’t figured out yet how Marana will repay the entire loan, except to say that they don’t expect to raise water rates to do it.
When installed, the two plants are expected to remove two compounds from drinking water that are either suspected or probable carcinogens for people who drink large enough quantities of the compounds over their lifetimes.
One of the compounds is 1,4-dioxane, a common industrial solvent formerly widely used as a stabilizer for other common cleaning solvents such as trichloroethylene and tricloroethane. The other compound is actually a family of compounds, known as perfluorinated compounds of PFAS, that have been used in firefighting foam on military bases and in many common household products.
The compounds have been found in wells serving two areas of Marana. Both sets of wells contain concentrations of the chemicals exceeding Environmental Protection Agency recommended health advisory levels. Neither the EPA nor Arizona has formal, legal drinking water limits for the compounds.
One affected well system serves Saguaro Bloom, a burgeoning subdivision lying in the Twin Peaks area near Interstate 10, and also the Happy Acres, Milligan’s Acres and La Puerta subdivisions.
The other serves the major, mostly finished Continental Reserve subdivision lying west of Silverbell Road and stretching from the Twin Peaks area south to south of Ina Road. It also serves the Ironwood Reserve and Sunset Ranch projects.
The state water financing authority’s governing board approved the loan to the town on Dec. 12. The money comes from what’s known as a state revolving fund, consisting of 80 percent federal money. The state provides the remaining 20 percent.
Before the loan was granted, the town was already negotiating with an outside consultant to design the treatment systems and had appropriated $2 million for the current fiscal year to pay for the cleanup project’s early costs. Officials hope to hire the consultant this week, said water director Kmiec. He declined to name the consultant while negotiations proceed.
“We’re just encouraged that the state sees the town of Marana’s desire to take care of these compounds and thankful they are willing to do that,” Kmiec said.
For now, residents in those areas are buying bottled water for drinking and in some cases are installing reverse osmosis treatment systems that can remove much if not all the PFAS from drinking water. Those systems aren’t effective at removing dioxane, however, removing 40 to 60 percent of it at most. Town officials say that treating dioxane requires an aggressive, complex treatment process that can’t be done practically at home.
Jack Ferguson, a Continental Reserve resident who gets the contaminated water, said he’s very glad that the town got the loan, but says waiting until August 2020 to get clean water is too long. He has installed a reverse-osmosis system and a carbon filter under his sink to treat the PFAS compounds but acknowledges that he’s still drinking dioxane-contaminated water because “I have no other option.”
He suggested that city officials negotiate with bottled-water companies in the area to get them to offer discounts to residents like him who get contaminated drinking water at home. Town spokeswoman Vic Hathaway said officials haven’t done that because they’re working on a long-term solution for treating these unregulated compounds.
Ferguson also said he’s concerned that town officials haven’t agreed to give residents advice on what questions to ask bottled-water companies, to make residents more educated customers.
Hathaway replied that since 2016, the town’s website has provided a link to a Good Housekeeping magazine article that tested several home water treatment devices with the help of the University of Arizona, and mentions several devices that significantly lower PFAS levels. Also, in response to questions received by phone or in person, the town’s staff has mentioned that devices using granular activated carbon filtering have shown good results in reducing PFAS levels, Hathaway said.
After hiring outside attorneys, the town and the city of Tucson filed suit in November against the manufacturing giant 3M Manufacturing and several other unnamed companies. The two governments are seeking to recover the costs of cleaning up groundwater of the perfluorinated compounds that have been found in Marana and Tucson drinking supplies.
Marana officials say they hope that a successful lawsuit will bring in enough money to pay for design and operation of the PFAS treatment facility.
But such a lawsuit won’t help them repay the portion of the loan devoted to dioxane cleanup.
How the town will recover the cleanup project’s total cost will be discussed as officials prepare their fiscal year 2019-20 budget, Hathaway said.
Tucson City Council man Steve Kozachik said the city also would use proceeds from the lawsuit, if it wins, to pay for treatment of the PFAS compounds. They have been found on the city’s south side, the southeast side just north of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and in the Continental Ranch area of Marana, which is served by Tucson Water. It’s not currently being served in Tucson at PFAS levels above the EPA health advisory.
But the city isn’t likely to take out a loan to pay for cleanup while the lawsuit is pending, Kozachik said. That’s because it can draw on existing city capital improvement funds to front the cleanup costs, he said.