Dirty Secrets: Backyard Composting Among Cities’ Free Landscape Classes

By Warren Tenney

AMWUA cities offer more than 70 free landscape classes throughout the year to help you grow a more beautiful yard with less water. Local experts introduce you to a wide variety of desert plants and how to use them to design shady and colorful spaces that attract birds and butterflies. Topics also include how to select, plant and nurture trees, how much and when to water, how to grow vegetables and herbs in the desert, and how to operate your irrigation controller. This fall the City of Glendale is offering five classes, including one called “Backyard Composting.” 

There are several reasons why desert dwellers put time and energy into becoming backyard composters. Some talk about the magic of science that turns their kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into something that looks like rich, dark soil. For others, it’s about growing the best tomatoes on the block or creating a booster for container gardens. People who take the time to compost will tell you they want to decrease the amount of garbage they pack into large plastic bags and send to landfills. When compost – officially called a “soil amendment” – is used on trees, plants and vegetables the water is more readily absorbed. That can make deep, infrequent irrigation more effective and help you use water more wisely.

Here are just a few tips about basic backyard composting that you’ll learn at the Glendale class offered 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at the city’s Main Library. 

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Composting containers can be bought at any gardening store.

Container: Compost containers must be at least one cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) to get the kind of microbial activity you need to create compost. You can buy a container specially made for composting through a gardening outlet. You also can check with your city’s solid waste department. Some cities recycle old trash and recycling cans into inexpensive compost bins. They remove the bottoms, drill holes in the sides to facilitate aeration, and keep the lid on to help prevent evaporation.

Composting material: Anything that once grew roots and leaves – or is made from something that once grew roots and leaves – is a suitable composting material. You need nitrogen (often green) and carbon (often brown) to create compost. Nitrogen is most likely supplied by your kitchen waste, such as the woody stems on asparagus and broccoli, a celery stump or the lettuce you forgot about in the back of the refrigerator. Dried landscape materials supply carbon, such as wood chips from a trimmed tree limb, dried leaves or a pile of lawn clippings left in the sun for a week. (Fresh, green lawn clippings are a source of nitrogen). The smaller the size of the composting material the quicker it changes into compost. Never use bones, grease or meaty leftovers in a compost pile. These food items need different microbes to decompose. Never use cat or dog droppings, or droppings from any animal that consumes meat. These droppings harbor unhealthy bacteria that composting does not destroy. It’s fine to add manure from cows, horses, goats, rabbits or llamas. 

Oxygen: The composting material changes into compost through the work of microbes. These microbes need oxygen. They get that oxygen when the compost is “turned” or churned. The more frequently the compost material is turned the more oxygen the microbes get, the harder they work and the faster the compost is finished. Some composting containers come with a handle that turns and tumbles the composting material. Other gardeners prefer to simply transfer their material from one container to another with a shovel. 

Water: Composting microbes also need water. In the desert, compost bins tend to dry out. (Turning your compost by hand lets you find dry spots.) Your compost material should be warm in the middle and as moist as a wrung sponge. If you squeeze it and water comes out, it’s too wet. Add carbon with some dry materials. If the pile is crispy, it’s too dry. Sprinkle it with water and add some nitrogen.

Patience: Finished compost equals 40 to 50 percent of the volume of composting material used. A single typical compost bin could produce one to two wheelbarrows of compost in 6 to 10 weeks. Finished compost is rich, dark, soft and earthy. If your compost still has chunks, microbes are still working. Instead of helping your plants, microbes in unfinished compost will draw nitrogen from plants and soil to stay alive.

So, you just can’t see yourself chipping, shredding, collecting and turning your way to compost? AMWUA has a list of free city landscape classes on its website. Take a look. You’re likely to find a class you need. Some cities are offering classes right now. Others will be posting soon.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org

Pure Brew: Campaign Promotes Future Source Of Drinking Water

By Warren Tenney

A couple dozen Arizona craft breweries will bring their beers to Phoenix in September to vie for a professional judge’s choice award and a people’s choice award. Here’s why this particular beer competition is big news: The competing brewers are making their beers with purified recycled wastewater for the 32nd Annual WaterReuse Symposium being held in Phoenix. The competition is the culmination of a statewide traveling campaign called the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge created by a Pima County Southwest Water Campus partnership. The campaign’s goal is to help people understand and trust the technology that creates purified recycled water, a renewable source of future drinking water.

Recycling wastewater is nothing new. AMWUA member cities put virtually all of their wastewater to beneficial use. Since 1973, much of the recycled water has been sent to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, a power station southwest of Phoenix that provides energy for 4 million people in four states. Cities use recycled water to create fishing lakes, restore or construct riparian areas, and irrigate large turf areas, such as parks and HOA common areas. Cities also store recycled water underground for future use. The Arizona Department of Environment Quality sets the standards for recycled water and cities treat recycled wastewater to A+ quality, which means it is treated and disinfected until there are no detectable disease-causing bacteria.

Pure Brew Truck

There is now technology to clean A+ wastewater beyond drinking water standards. This water is called purified water. It is recycled water that is further treated using ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection with advanced oxidation, activated carbon filtration and chlorine disinfection. Professionals view purified water as an important part of solving drinking water shortages in the future, but it has one major problem standing in its way: public perception. Imagining where the water originated is a hurdle many people find difficult to overcome.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge was designed to help people get over that hurdle. The project was created by a partnership that includes Pima County Southwest Water Campus, a team of water professionals, University of Arizona scientists, local municipalities, including Tucson Water and the Town of Marana, and consulting organizations. In November 2016, the concept won the $250,000 New Arizona Prize competition and its $2,500 people’s choice award. The project received an additional $50,000 in assistance from the WaterNow Alliance and about $50,000 in donated time and equipment.

Team members who created the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge knew it wasn’t enough to simply tell people purified water was safe and tasted good, they had to show people. The idea of a beer contest was appealing but the Arizona team was looking for something more ambitious, something that would reach a wider audience and showcase the technology that produces purified water. The partnership decided to build the technology used to process purified water inside a semi-trailer truck. The truck has traveled around the state and used local water professionals to explain to visitors how the technology works. The truck includes looping videos explaining the basics of Arizona water, such as where drinking water comes from and how it’s treated.

Pure Brew Open Truck

The truck travels to festivals and events, such as the Arizona Great Outdoor Festival in Flagstaff. People who visit the truck are asked to fill out a 15-question survey about their perception of purified recycled wastewater. So far, the majority of the 1,300 surveys completed show people are open to the idea of drinking purified water – but are more enthusiastic about drinking beer made from purified water.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge project included recruiting small and large independent craft breweries to compete in a taste challenge using beers brewed with purified water processed in the truck. The team has worked closely with the Arizona Craft Brewer’s Guild and participating breweries come from across the state, including the cities of Yuma, Sedona, Flagstaff, Oak Creek, Tucson and Phoenix. In July, the truck received its permit to create purified water from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and was hooking up to a wastewater treatment plant and purifying water for participating brewers. The team also was filling a tank with purified water to take to a bottling company to have samples ready to hand out to visitors at the campaign’s next stops and at the week-long WaterReuse Symposium.

It’s not really about the beer created from this campaign. It’s about introducing Arizona residents to the technology that can help augment future water supplies. Once the craft brew challenge is completed the team will have just enough money left to take the truck to a half-dozen more festivals through December. The team is looking for funding to keep the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge campaign on the road in 2018.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Desert Landscape School: Professional Training Available For Everyone

By Warren Tenney

There are people who love desert trees and plants and want to learn more about them. Then there are those who want the knowledge and skills to confidently take charge of any desert-adapted landscape – design it, lay the irrigation, select and plant the trees, shrubs and groundcover, prune, tend and keep it thriving. These are the people who put in the money, time and effort to earn a credential from the Desert Botanical Garden. The Garden’s Desert Landscape School just became a bit easier to fit into your schedule and your budget.

The Desert Botanical Garden in the City of Phoenix has offered a professional landscaping course since 1997. More than 1,200 people have earned the Desert Landscape School credential. The Garden was eager to train landscapers in the techniques that have kept its 55-acres of plants flourishing for more than 70 years. Many Valley cities were designing desert-adapted landscaping into their buildings and parks and sent their landscaping crews to sharpen their skills. Some professional landscapers still take the course but the course has attracted a variety of people over the years. Students have included accountants, lawyers and administrators who wanted to change careers and start new landscaping businesses. Professional landscape designers and architects who move from other states have attended to learn about desert-adapted trees, shrubs and groundcover plants. Homeowners now make up the majority of students taking the extensive landscape course.  Some come seeking information about how to care for their own yards. Others come specifically to learn the skills and knowledge they will need to redesign and install their own landscaping.

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In the past, the Desert Landscape School program was taught over seven months. It met for four hours every week, included six exams and cost $1,250. That was a lot of money and a tough schedule for working adults with families. Drop out rates ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent.

For the past two year, the Desert Botanical Garden piloted a new idea with help from a Flinn Foundation grant. The Garden broke down the seven-month Desert Landscape School into six certificate courses. If you successfully complete all six courses you earn a Desert Landscape School credential. So far, the dropout rate has been less than 2 percent.

These new courses are two hours every week for 10 weeks and costs range from $259 to $374 depending on the course and whether the student is a Desert Botanical Garden member. Cities can now send their landscaping crews without the expense of becoming a corporate member of the Garden.  In September 2015, a storm (later determined to be a microburst) caused $100,000 worth of damage to the Tempe Center for the Arts landscaping.  The City of Tempe turned to the Desert Botanical Garden for help with specific plantings and to minimize damage in the future. Six members of the Tempe Center for the Arts maintenance and landscape team began the Desert Landscape School courses this spring as part of that effort.

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Desert Landscape School  Photo: Desert Botanical Garden

The six courses in the program are offered twice a year.  One track is offered 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, the other at 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The classes have up to 30 students. The more hands-on courses have fewer students because it allows instructors to spend more one-on-one time with students. All classes are designed to be primarily outside, with students working and walking in the Garden. When students visit the Garden with family or friends, they can point to trees they’ve pruned or planted or irrigation systems they’ve installed.

There is a proctored exam at the end of each course. If it is an installation course, the exam is performance-based to determine if a student gained the knowledge and skills needed to plant a desert tree correctly and install an irrigation system that works. If it is a knowledge-based course, then there is a written exam. For example, the exam that follows the Desert Plant Palette course includes identifying the scientific and common names of 50 plants set up in an exam room.

No, it’s not for the weekend gardener, but if you successfully complete all six courses you will earn a credential from the Desert Botanical Garden’s Desert Landscape School. That credential gives homeowners the confidence to take charge of their own landscape and gives landscapers the knowledge and skills to better serve their clients.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org

The Whys Behind Changes In Your Water Bill

By Warren Tenney

You may have noticed from time to time changes to your city’s water bill. A city makes adjustments to water and sewer rates to ensure the rates charged to homes and businesses cover the city’s expenses. Such adjustments only happen after being approved by your city council. Here are a few of the rising expenses that impact the cost of a city’s water and sewer services.

Water. Cities are paying more for this precious commodity. For example, the cost of Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) has increased an average of 6.8 percent annually for the last 15 years. The cost for Salt River water delivered by the Salt River Project (SRP) also has increased even if at a lower rate.  Both will continue to rise. For Valley cities, the cost of raw water can be between 10 to 25 percent of their water budget.

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Salt River Project canals deliver water to city treatment plants.   Photo: Michael McNamara 

Energy. Water and wastewater plants and distribution systems use enormous amounts of energy. Energy costs have risen. The extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities because each city has a different treatment processes, different elevation changes, and different energy programs. Two AMWUA cities report their energy costs rose about 30 percent over the last 10 years. Cost increases for energy are expected to continue.

Infrastructure. Water runs to homes and businesses 24/7 365 days a year with little interruption. That’s because the pipes, pumps, valves, tanks and meters it takes to make that happen are regularly maintained, repaired and, when needed, replaced. Other infrastructure costs, like expanding or building new treatment plants, occur less frequently but are very expensive.

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City of Peoria utility crew repairs a leak in water infrastructure.

Chemicals. The cost of chemicals needed to treat water and wastewater also are  increasing. Again, the extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities. One city reported a 33 percent increase in the cost of chemicals over the last 10 years.

Quality. Standards for safe drinking water evolve as scientific knowledge increases. For example, in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the level of arsenic permitted in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. That required new equipment in the treatment plants and new pipelines to be built.  EPA is continually assessing non-regulated contaminants to determine if they should be added to safe drinking water standards, which result in higher costs for water providers.

Security. Government regulations to keep water systems safe are increasing as new threats are identified. It costs to secure infrastructure and to train staff to respond effectively in case of emergencies, such as vandalism or a terror attack.

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City of Scottsdale utility crew participates in a drill to keep water flowing during an emergency.

Debt Service. Building and upgrading infrastructure is very expensive and often funded by bonds. These bonds smooth out rate increases by allowing water departments to pay back the debt over long periods of time. Cities work hard to keep their financial houses in order to receive high bond ratings. High bond ratings result in lower interest costs on these debts.

There are costs involved in running a water department that most city residents don’t think about. For example, consider the vehicles necessary to transport water professionals to read meters, take water quality samples, make planned and emergency repairs, and everything else involved to ensure you have water.  One AMWUA city reports that it costs $600,000 a year to maintain its fleet of vehicles.

City water departments want residential and commercial customers involved in helping to maintain water systems that provide reliable services. Some cities have citizen water advisory boards, citizen water information seminars and citizen tours. Learn more about your cities’ water systems and help your neighbors understand that a well maintained water and sewer system that is staffed by knowledgeable professionals is vital to maintaining your city’s economy.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Five Things You Need To Know Right Now About Drought

By Warren Tenney

Ongoing headlines about drought in the southwest are confusing and often seem contradictory. Two weeks ago, a panel of experts advised the Governor’s Office that Arizona’s drought is not over and will last, at least, another year. After a rainy winter, that’s a surprise for many people who follow the state’s drought status maps. These monthly drought maps show no portion of Arizona remaining in “extreme” or “severe” drought. Then there is the conundrum created by the decline of Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir critical to Arizona’s water supplies. This winter’s heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming means Lake Mead will receive enough water to avoid a shortage declaration. Yet, the Lake’s levels remain a source of great concern among water professionals. Oh, and why has California, but not Arizona, declared its drought over?

Here are five questions and the answers you need to know about drought to help you cut through the confusion.

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Here is where to follow Arizona’s monthly drought conditions: http://www.azwater.gov/AzDWR/StatewidePlanning/Drought/DroughtStatus2.htm

1. What is drought?

A drought is not a moment in time. Drought is a cycle. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years. That’s why you hear water experts say: One rainy winter doesn’t end a drought. One rainy winter can temporarily ease “drought conditions” in some areas of the state. The current drought cycle began around 1996. If rainfall and snowfall continue to be above average over the next several years then Arizona’s climate experts would be more likely to call this drought finished. These same experts say there is a 50 percent chance of that happening. The wild card is climate change.

2. Why is Lake Mead still at worrisome low levels?

Lake Mead is a reservoir that contains Colorado River water behind Hoover Dam. The legal allotments of Lake Mead water given to states and communities outstrip the average amount of Colorado River water entering the Lake. Even without a drought, normal withdrawals of water from Lake Mead would cause it to fall an average of 12 feet every year.  The drought on the Colorado River Basin has exacerbated the situation.  Voluntary efforts by states that depend on Lake Mead have kept it from falling to a level where the federal government would declare a shortage. A shortage declaration would mean less Colorado River water would be delivered to Arizona. It would affect farmers first, but if Lake Mead levels fall farther, Colorado River water supplies to cities would eventually be cut.  So far, the Colorado River has been able to keep delivering, but living on the edge of shortage is unacceptable to water managers. The Arizona Department of Water Resources is working with the state’s cities, Native American communities, farmers and industries to voluntarily cut back on water taken from Mead. Once Arizona reaches an internal agreement it can finish negotiations with California, Nevada and Mexico to voluntarily reduce legal allotments of Colorado River water to match the reality of what the river can supply. Right now, Lake Mead is only 10 feet higher than it was this time last year.

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Lake Mead

3. After 20 years of drought, why are Arizona’s water supplies not critically low?

Drought is a normal occurrence in our arid environment. Central Arizona has built, planned, and managed water supplies to ensure reliability during drought cycles.  Massive reservoirs capture water during wet periods for times when precipitation is scarce. The Arizona Groundwater Act of 1980 requires cities and farmers in the most populated areas of the state to implement conservation programs, protect the groundwater from over pumping and rely on renewable surface (river) water instead. The majority of the state’s water supply comes from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and the Salt River via Salt River Project (SRP).  Virtually all wastewater is recycled and put to use, and water is stored underground for use in shortage.  A limited amount of groundwater is pumped from the aquifers for use, as well. Multiple sources of water allow cities to offset reductions in one or more supplies. For example, Arizona’s drought has reduced the amount of water in SRP reservoirs in the mountains east of Phoenix, but SRP has been able to offset possible shortages by pumping from its numerous wells. Arizona law requires Valley cities to offset every acre-foot of groundwater SRP pumps by recharging (or returning water to) the aquifers from their renewable water supplies, such as extra Colorado River water (ordered but not immediately needed) or recycled wastewater. This keeps the Valley’s aquifers in good condition and hedges against shortages.

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Granite Reef Underground Storage Project   Photo: Mark Durben

4. So, if we’re in good shape, do we still need to conserve water?

We live in a desert. Long-term, ongoing conservation efforts are something AMWUA member cities promote tirelessly, and for good reason. Drought is an uncontrollable weather phenomenon and the impact of climate change is unknown. Our groundwater supplies are finite. Once used, aquifers replenish over decades, not years, and usually not to previous capacity. Using less water on a daily basis means leaving more water in the ground and storing more water for a time when river water supplies are short. If shortages were to prevent cities from meeting normal, everyday demands for water, all AMWUA cities, by law, have shortage-preparedness plans ready to go. These plans are designed to incrementally reduce water use to bring demand in line with available supplies while protecting our quality of life and the economy. Despite that, no city wants to declare a water shortage. So for now, keep taking those short showers, keep watering those shade trees efficiently, and keep using water wisely. Your city will let you know when it needs more help.

5. Why is Arizona’s drought continuing while California has declared that its drought is over?

California has declared an end to the drought’s State of Emergency, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely out of the drought that has gripped the state since 2012. Due to the economic impacts of ongoing drought, record low reservoir levels, and snowpack at 20 percent of normal levels, California’s governor declared in January 2014 a State of Emergency. In January 2015, with no end to drought in site, cities and towns across the state were required to reduce water use by 25 percent. Recent record-breaking precipitation freed the northern part of the state from drought and refilled the majority of reservoirs, allowing the state to rescind the mandatory water use reductions and lift the emergency declaration for all but four counties. However, almost half the state remains in severe drought.

Arizona’s current drought began around 1996.  Arizona’s Drought Emergency Declaration has been in effect since June 1999 and still remains in effect. We haven’t yet seen enough wet weather across the state to lift either the drought or the declaration. 

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Regional Partnerships Keep Water Affordable

By Warren Tenney

It is not easy for cities to build, staff and operate water and wastewater treatment plants and still maintain water and wastewater rates all residents can afford. That’s why Central Arizona cities traditionally work together to build regional treatment plants that can deliver more water for less money.

Valley cities treat two kinds of water for drinking: most of it is surface water, which is Colorado, Salt and Verde river water delivered by canals, and some groundwater pumped by wells. Cities also treat and recycle wastewater. The treated wastewater is stored underground for future use and also used to irrigate large expanses of turf, such as at schools, parks and golf courses. One of the Phoenix Metropolitan area’s oldest joint water projects is the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant built in 1968. It is operated by Phoenix but owned and used by AMWUA’s five original member cities: Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe. Most of the treated wastewater this plant produces is shipped through a pipe to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station 36 miles west of the plant.

 

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Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant is jointly owned by the cities of Peoria and Glendale.  Photo: Black & Veatch

 

For the next 50 years, joint water and wastewater plants were built all over the Valley to expand capacity, reduce costs and add redundancy. Water professionals are never satisfied with “enough” water. Cities build redundancy into their water supplies and systems to ensure water flows to their residents and businesses despite shortages, infrastructure failures or large fires. For example, the City of Peoria’s goal is to have a six-year supply of water stored underground and the city is about two thirds of the way to meeting that goal.

Right now, the cities of Peoria and Glendale are working on an upgrade and expansion of a water treatment plant they jointly own just north of Happy Valley Road near N. 63rd Avenue. Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant was originally built by Glendale in 1986 to provide drinking water to homes and businesses on the city’s growing north end.

 

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Inside the Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant   Photo: City of Glendale

 

In 1996, the City of Peoria needed to bring its allocation of Colorado River water through the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal to the homes and businesses growing on its north end. Peoria already had the Greenway Water Treatment Plant where it treated its supply of Salt and Verde river water (delivered by Salt River Project) and had numerous wells located throughout the city.

Peoria faced the expense of building, staffing and operating its own plant, including the extended process needed to create a separate turnout into the CAP canal. Seeking a better solution, Peoria approached neighboring Glendale with a plan. Peoria would pay Glendale to expand the existing Pyramid Peak Water Treatment plant to increase production from 30 million gallons per day (mgd) to 39 mgd.  Peoria paid for and received the capacity to produce drinking water at the rate of 9 mgd and meet Peoria’s current and future needs. Glendale would continue to operate the plant but the two cities would be co-owners and share operating costs proportionally. The agreement was signed May 15, 1996 and the expansion completed by July 21, 1998.

Last year the cities signed an agreement to once again expand Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant. The new expansion will produce an additional 15 million gallons per day (mgd) to serve Peoria’s growing northwest neighborhoods. This expansion will increase the plant production from 39 mgd to 54 mgd.  The entire project includes the expansion and upgrades to the existing facility and will cost about $72 million. Glendale and Peoria will proportionally share the $22 million cost to replace and upgrade the older equipment in the plant, such as pumps and tanks. Peoria will pay $50 million for the expansion and fund this part of the project through the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA). WIFA is a small federal agency that provides revolving loans to utilities to improve, build or expand water infrastructure.

Glendale held its first open house in April to gain input from the plant’s neighbors. The cities expect construction to start in the summer of 2019 and the plant to be operating by the summer of 2021. This partnership is just one more example of how water professionals consistently collaborate to solve large and small water challenges.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

City Water Departments Answer Five Common Questions

By Warren Tenney

Your city’s water department does a great job using science and engineering, muscle and skill to get drinking water into your home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water professionals at your city can answer your questions about water quality testing, water rates and billing, the efficient use of water, free water conservation classes, water conservation rebates, and water leaks in the street. But there are things they can’t do, such as fix your plumbing or chill your water before it reaches your home. We called the people who answer the phone at city water departments and asked them to share a few of the most frequent questions they get from customers. Here they are:

1. Why does warm water come out of my cold faucet? This is, of course, a popular call when summer temperatures are peaking. Your water department cannot make the water coming into your kitchen or bathroom colder or hotter. Water distributed by your city comes to your house and up to your water meter through pipes buried 12 inches to 18 inches below ground. If temperatures are particularly hot, the ground is not cool at that depth. (If you are from a place with cold, hard winters, perhaps Connecticut or Minnesota, water pipes are buried 42 inches below the surface to prevent them from freezing.) From the water meter, the water coming into your house enters through a line (usually under your front yard) and then through an exposed pipe. Water has plenty of time to warm up before it gets to your kitchen or bathroom sink. You may want to keep a pitcher of cold water in your refrigerator for those summer days.

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2. Why does my water smell? There are times when you turn on a faucet and get a whiff of a sewer or rotten egg smell. Look under your sink and you’ll see a pipe shaped like a U. This is called the P-trap (because from a plumber’s angle, when it’s attached to another pipe, it looks like the letter P). It serves two purposes. First, if hair or food creates a clog, this is where it will happen – a place accessible to plumbers, instead of deep within your plumbing system where it would be tougher and more expensive to reach. Second, about a cup of water always sits in that P-Trap and serves as a barrier that keeps sewer smells from entering your home. The barrier can fail and develop gaps when the water in this pipe develops a thick layer of scum from hair or food. Sometimes the barrier fails because the water in the P-trap dries up, such as when you go on vacation or fail to use the guest bathroom for weeks. It’s likely to happen more often when the air conditioner is running and drawing the moisture out of the air in your home. When you run the water, it agitates whatever is in – or not in – the P-Trap, creating that whiff of sewer smell. Run the water occasionally in all of your sinks and, when on vacation, ask the person who is watching your house to run the water in your sinks. If the smell persists, clean your drains or call a plumber.

3. Why is my water cloudy? Air bubbles in the line can make your water cloudy. Sometimes it happens when your water department is flushing out fire hydrants in your neighborhood or when a plumber has been to your home. Run the water for a little while or let the water in your drinking glass settle. It will clear up.

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4. Why is water bubbling up from under my yard? It is your responsibility to identify and correct plumbing issues on your side of the water meter, which is most often located in your front yard near the street. Your responsibility includes the water line buried in the yard that leads to your plumbing and irrigation systems. If water is bubbling up anywhere in your yard, it’s most likely an irrigation line that has been leaking for a while. It’s time to call an irrigation systems professional or to make time for a little do-it-yourself project. It can be costly to ignore your irrigation system. Know where the main irrigation lines are buried in your yard and run the system occasionally when you have time to walk your yard and look for leaks. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help you find and fix irrigation leaks.

5. Why is my water pressure low? The State requires cities to provide water at a minimum of 20 pounds per square inch (psi).  (Some individual cities have set their minimum pressure higher than 20 psi.) Getting higher water pressure can sometimes be physically hard to achieve. A water department employee can gauge the water pressure for you as it is coming into your home from the city service line to your meter. If the city employee finds that the water entering your meter is at an acceptable pressure then the problem is within your own plumbing system. A broken pipe or a clogged filter in your water softener can reduce your water pressure. It’s time to call a plumber.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.