Queen Creek No Longer Part of Negotiations to Interconnect Water Line
Town’s offer of regional solution for safe, secure water supply deemed unnecessary
During the April 23 Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) meeting, EPCOR, the interim manager for Johnson Utilities, reported there is enough water to meet summer demands. As a result, the Town of Queen Creek’s interconnection with EPCOR is no longer being negotiated.
The Town has consistently offered to help provide a regional solution for a safe and secure water supply, including safe and efficient disposal and treatment of the region’s wastewater. After a 13-day evidentiary hearing, the ACC found significant deficiencies and dangers to public health and safety in the Johnson Utilities systems and appointed EPCOR as the Interim Manager in July 2018. When EPCOR was appointed, it identified an interconnection with the Town of Queen Creek as a possible solution. Upon evaluating Johnson Utilities, EPCOR confirmed immediate action was necessary to deal with the deficiencies in both the water and wastewater systems, identifying substantial costs to address the deficiencies. In the fall of 2018, EPCOR approached the Town to discuss interconnecting both water and wastewater systems.
The interconnections were to ensure current Johnson Utilities customers have access to adequate water, avoiding the type of water shortages that were experienced during the summer of 2018. An interconnection could also have addressed the safe treatment and disposal of wastewater that exceeded the capacities of Johnson Utilities’ existing treatment plants. EPCOR ultimately abandoned the potential wastewater interconnection solution due to opposition from Johnson Utilities’ ownership. The Town remains concerned about the Johnson wastewater system since unpermitted discharge of treated water has been disposed into the Queen Creek Wash. Additionally, since the July 2018 appointment of EPCOR, there have been multiple sanitary sewer overflows, including one which recently impacted a Queen Creek water line installation.
During the water interconnection negotiations, the requests from EPCOR to the Town changed as they developed internal resources. Based on conversations with EPCOR, the Town filed a series of documents with the ACC related to the water interconnection beginning on March 5, with an updated draft agreement filed on April 19.
The draft agreement included a deposit, usage charges and a tentatively agreed upon connection fee. It also included the same indemnifications from the ACC and Johnson Utilities that were provided to EPCOR. While the Town is interested in assisting with a regional solution, it cannot be at the expense and risk to Town residents/rate payers. Unlike an emergency interconnection, which is intended to provide water for emergencies that typically last for just a few hours or days, EPCOR’s proposed interconnection would have relied on the Town to provide nearly 1,000,000 gallons per day for the next several months. Accordingly, because the Town was asked to become a water supplier and both EPCOR and Johnson Utilities are private, for-profit companies, the Town included the necessary fees to cover its costs for providing safe and secure water to commercial customers.
Additionally, the indemnification was necessary to protect Town residents as Johnson Utilities has already filed numerous lawsuits against the Town, threatening more concerning any proposed interconnection agreement. ACC Staff stated the indemnification would make the ACC responsible to defend the ACC, EPCOR and the Town when Johnson sued the parties for the interconnection and expressed concern about this responsibility. This is precisely the reason the Town felt indemnification was critical.
During the April 23 meeting, the Commissioners thanked the Town for its willingness to assist and suggested a different manner of moving forward.
The Town of Queen Creek has an interest in the situation taking place in the Johnson Utilities’ service area. Not only is the issue one of regional concern, in regard to and environmental impacts; thousands of Queen Creek residents receive sewer services from Johnson Utilities, and thousands of San Tan Valley residents receive water service from the Town and sewer service from Johnson. As the local representation for Queen Creek residents, it is the Town’s responsibility to ensure their welfare and safety.
Queen Creek remains dedicated to assisting with any necessary regional solutions that ensure residents’ access to safe water and safe, legal wastewater treatment and disposal.
For more information about the Town’s efforts to provide a regional solution, visit QueenCreek.org/RegionalSolution. To stay updated on news and events, follow the Town on Facebook.com/QueenCreek or Twitter.com/TOQC_Official.
Constance Halonen-Wilson, Public Information Officer