S#&t Storm

Phoenix's sewer crisis has gone unnoticed by most toilet users, but it's the talk of sewage experts nationwide

Mayor Phil Gordon says he's not worried about the city's sewer system. "There's always been ongoing rehabilitation needs," he says. "I'm confident that we will address these issues expeditiously and professionally and get them taken care of."

The mayor says Steve Owens, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, has told him that Phoenix "has the best record in the Valley" when it comes to sewage overflows. Just how Owens might know that is a mystery. When New Times asked to examine ADEQ's files on Phoenix overflows, the department produced dozens of file folders stuffed with treatment-plant permits, test results on sewage effluent discharged to the Salt River, and other documents, with fewer than ten overflow reports thrown haphazardly into the stacks of paperwork. City records show more than 500 overflows.

City Councilwoman Peggy Neely says she was surprised by the capacity crisis that shut down access to lines this spring, but she says the city is being responsible. The water department's warning that the city is risking system failures and higher costs in the future is "a concern." But not worrisome enough to raise rates high enough to take care of everything.

"I think the council has sent a strong message that we're going to do as much as we can, but at the same time, we have to make sure we monitor to know where we are with systems that may have a failure," Neely says. "I think there may have been an attitude in Phoenix that we're not as old as some cities, so maybe we don't have these problems."

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