PHOENIX, AZ (STL.News) Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality today announced $2 million in state funding to help Tucson Water restart a treatment plant that was forced to shut down because of severe groundwater contamination.
The new state funding will fast-track efforts to bring the Tucson Airport Remediation Plant (TARP) back online and safely continue treating contaminated groundwater in the area.
“Making sure all Arizonans receive safe and clean drinking water remains a top priority of our state,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “This funding will help Tucson Water bring an important water treatment facility back online and secure Tucson’s water supply for future generations. Every source of water in Arizona is critical as we face drought conditions and the risk of a drier future.”
Tucson Water will suspend operations of the TARP due to increasing levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in nearby groundwater while constructing a State-funded temporary pipeline and permanent outfall structure to convey treated water leaving TARP to the dry riverbed of the Santa Cruz River north of Irvington Road. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and Tucson Water are working on an intergovernmental agreement to approve the funding this week.
“We continue to call on the federal government to take prompt action to address PFAS contamination in Arizona,” Governor Ducey added. “Arizona is acting now to contain the threat of PFAS, but we are asking the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to address DOD-related PFAS contamination of groundwater throughout Arizona and protect the health and safety of Arizonans.”
Tucson Water has operated TARP since 1994 to successfully treat and contain a plume of contaminated groundwater near Tucson International Airport, removing industrial chemicals TCE and 1,4-Dioxane and delivering the cleaned water into the drinking water system. On June 8, the utility announced that out of an abundance of caution and due to rising levels of newer contaminants in the area groundwater (PFAS, also emanating from the airport area), it would suspend operations on June 21 as it seeks alternative end-uses for the treated water. These alternatives include discharge to the Santa Cruz River and/or Tucson Water’s reclaimed water system, which is used for landscape irrigation. Tucson Water assures the public that contaminated water has not been served to customers from TARP. These measures are being pursued to protect public health, and to ensure no contaminants enter the drinking water system in the future.
Arizona’s investment will help the City of Tucson get the plant back online as quickly as possible, which is critical to meeting the plant’s original mission of containing the decades-old plume of groundwater contaminated with TCE and 1,4-Dioxane. “ADEQ and the State of Arizona join the City of Tucson in our commitment to protect the drinking water supply for all Tucsonans,” said ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera. “TARP was not designed to remove PFAS, and Tucson Water has invested millions of dollars to keep the water safe from these compounds. Pursuing alternative end-uses for treated TARP water is a prudent move that will allow the plant to return to service. The $2 million from the state will expedite getting TARP safely back online and prevent the plume of groundwater contamination from spreading outside of the treatment zone.”
“City-state partnership has been and will continue to be important to ensure the safety and long-term security of our local water supply,” said Mayor Regina Romero. “Tucson’s Mayor and Council have already invested millions of local dollars to treat PFAS contamination. Still, there is an urgent need for the federal government and responsible parties to initiate or provide funding for large-scale PFAS cleanup efforts. Tucson Water ratepayers are not responsible for PFAS contamination and should not be left with the bill.”
Tucson Water officials emphasize that building the pipeline does not mean it will be discharging untreated water into the Santa Cruz River. “When TARP reopens, we’ll still be treating this water to a very high standard prior to any discharge to the river.” said Interim Tucson Water Director John Kmiec. “We will continue our vigilance by monitoring the water quality coming out of TARP every week. What this project does is provide a temporary measure to keep TARP running and keep the TCE plume contained until a long-term solution is developed to address PFAS in this part of our aquifer.”
The announcement marks the second time in recent months that the state has deployed funds to address PFAS in Tucson’s groundwater supply. In December 2020, ADEQ committed $3.3 million from the state’s limited Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund to stop PFAS from impacting key Tucson drinking water sources. ADEQ is conducting an accelerated investigation and designing an early response action north of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to protect Tucson Water’s central wellfield, a critical component of the community’s long-term water supply.
In April, Governor Doug Ducey sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin calling on the Department of Defense to take prompt action to address Pentagon-related groundwater contamination near Arizona’s military installations.
To date, Tucson Water has spent over $8 million to address PFAS locally, continuing to test all drinking water sources for the compounds across its 390 square mile service area, turning off contaminated wells and drilling new ones in clean areas, and removing PFAS at TARP. The utility is spending millions more to make a connection to the reclaimed system. The City of Tucson has filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of PFAS compounds and will pursue all of its available legal remedies to obtain reimbursement for all of the City’s — and now ADEQ’s — expenses from these and other potentially responsible parties.