By 1994 there will be a new building at 8600 East Thomas in Scottsdale.
Concealed behind the building's adobelike faade will be a multimillion-dollar plant designed to strip health-threatening chemicals, principally the suspected carcinogen trichloroethylene, or TCE, from drinking water pumped out of the north Indian Bend Wash Superfund site.
The pollution was discovered in 1981 in the Scottsdale area. The very first time that drinking water was tested for TCE, the contamination forced the closure of five suburban drinking-water wells.
In the last four years of their production, the wells pumped approximately 12 billion gallons of water to Valley homes. State officials are unable to say how many of those 12 billion gallons were contaminated.
The north Indian Bend Wash aquifer itself had been classified in state records as a potable source of drinking water for 350,000 people.
Of the four suspected polluters of this critical natural resource, the largest is the Motorola Government Electronics Group, a defense contractor for the United States government.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has touted the north Indian Bend Wash Superfund site as "An Arizona Success Story." In a newsletter recently released by the headquarters of the EPA's Region Nine, which includes Arizona, the federal agency emphasizes that polluters, not taxpayers, will pay for the north Indian Bend Wash cleanup: "This Superfund remedy will protect the groundwater resources of the State and provide drinking water for a major population center at little cost to the public."
Under the headline "Making Polluters Pay for Cleanup," the EPA newsletter says polluters "must either clean the sites themselves or pay the cost for EPA to do the job." The newsletter is referring to a key point in the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the so-called Superfund law, that forces the polluter--not the taxpayer--to pay for cleanup expenses.
Officials at the EPA have figured that the total capital cost for cleaning up Scottsdale's drinking water will be about $20.9 million. Operation of the water-treatment plant itself is estimated to cost polluters another $500,000 per year.
Citizens have been left with the mistaken impression that much of this expense is being shouldered by Motorola.
The electronics giant, which is Arizona's largest employer, has long said its participation in cleaning up this Superfund site is a testament to the fact that it is a "responsible corporate citizen." Motorola's spokesman, Lawrence Moore, has repeatedly said the company has spent nearly $30 million to remove TCE from the groundwater beneath Scottsdale and a second, even larger, spill in Phoenix.
Scottsdale city water officials Jim Nelson and Roger Klingler say citizens will pay relatively little--only about $150,000--for the cleanup of groundwater that will once again be used for drinking. The entire southern portion of Scottsdale will get a safe water supply, they say, paid for by polluters.
Which isn't true.
Taxpayers across the nation are shouldering much of Motorola's share of the environmental costs.
Motorola has back-billed the U.S. Department of Defense for undisclosed costs of the pollution cleanup in Scottsdale, New Times has learned.
When American taxpayers purchase defense systems for the armed services, Motorola adds into its bills a fee to cover expenses for the TCE spill in the north Indian Bend Wash.
"Investigation and cleanup costs at north Indian Bend Wash are considered allowable overhead and portions were billed to the government in accordance with their guidelines," acknowledges Moore.
The "exact amounts" the Department of Defense has paid and will pay are "confidential and proprietary financial matters," says Moore.
He says Motorola's Government Electronics Group did nothing illegal by back-billing the Department of Defense for such expenses.
Department of Defense spokesperson Jan Walker refuses to comment specifically on Motorola. The reimbursement figures are "proprietary data" and not available to the public, she says. The Department of Defense acknowledges, however, that United States taxpayers often pay Superfund expenses for contractors such as Motorola. The rationale: Superfund expenses are a defense contractor's "cost of doing business" if the pollution was caused without malice and can be linked to a specific product manufactured for the Department of Defense, says Walker. The Department of Defense will not say how much it has spent on Superfund sites across the country. "We do not collect data separating these expenses out," says Walker. The Defense Contract Audit Agency, a federal agency which audits defense contracts, refused New Times' Freedom of Information Act request for the precise figures detailing how much American taxpayers must pay for the Indian Bend Wash cleanup.
After being informed by New Times of the back-billing practice, Senator Dennis DeConcini's office has intervened.
The senator's aides will meet with the General Accounting Office to discuss the possibility of investigating Motorola to determine how much taxpayer money has been spent to clean up the Superfund sites. "The senator is concerned that taxpayers' money is being used to clean up these Superfund sites," says David Steele, a DeConcini environmental aide. "If this is really the case, there's no incentive for defense contractors to keep from polluting again." The Department of Defense says it sees nothing wrong with paying the Superfund bills for some contractors, even if they are "high," says Glenn Flood, another department spokesman. "You can't disallow something because it might be a high price if it is a reasonable expense," says Flood. The Department of Defense's response to possible anger by unsuspecting taxpayers over the fact that public funds pay environmental costs of private industries is straightforward. "The American public is behind the weapons program," says Flood.
@body:The Motorola Government Electronics practice of back-billing environmental expenses to the Department of Defense is only one way pollution costs are bankrolled by unsuspecting taxpayers in Arizona and across the nation, New Times has learned during a months-long investigation. In the waning days of the current Bush Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has quietly begun to change national Superfund policy in a move that threatens to foist more and more cleanup costs on citizens. (See the related story on page 22.) In the face of troubling new scientific evidence, the new Superfund policy is a dramatic departure from the basic Superfund concept that the polluters--not taxpayers--pay for cleanup.
Ten years ago, regulators entrusted with protecting Arizona's groundwater said that TCE and similar chemicals could be removed within a decade or two from the aquifers polluted by Motorola and other companies. (Aquifers are spongy layers of soil and gravel that hold groundwater.)
Regulators also asserted that Motorola would be forced to pay the bill for its pollution at the north Indian Bend Wash Superfund site in Scottsdale, and the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund site in Phoenix, where some of the highest TCE readings in groundwater in the United States have been reported.
These days regulators can't promise that TCE will be removed from the aquifers beneath Motorola in 20 years. In fact, they debate whether current technology can ever cleanse TCE from aquifers.
The only bright spot is that groundwater itself, once it is pumped out of the aquifers, can be cleansed to federal drinking-water standards and stored elsewhere.
But because of the physical nature of TCE, the contaminated aquifers themselves are likely to remain polluted for centuries, soiling all water that trickles into them.
A groundbreaking 1991 study by scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory--reported earlier in this series--details the failure of modern science to cleanse aquifers of TCE and other similar chemicals. In a separate 1991 report, Cost Growth for Treatment Technologies at NPL Sites, the same Oak Ridge scientists say the EPA's projected costs of "cleaning up" Superfund sites were far too low.
This is because the EPA had mistakenly predicted cleanup times of 2 to 30 years, says the report, which was obtained by New Times. "Time frames of 100 to 1,000 years have been suggested by leading groundwater scientists as more appropriate projections for complex sites, if aquifer restoration is achievable at all," the report says.
Confronted with contamination that might last centuries instead of decades, federal authorities have begun to revamp the Superfund cleanup in a way that will relieve the financial pressure on industrial polluters.
The technical challenges of aquifer cleanup have set off a new series of troubling, potentially explosive debates in Arizona as regulators rethink how they will handle the mushrooming costs of polluted groundwater. The Motorola sites are central to the new set of debates, which will determine who really pays the unprecedented expense of groundwater pollution.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR), the agency entrusted with preserving groundwater for our children and grandchildren to drink, favors forcing polluters to finance the massive and immediate cleansing of groundwater and the reinjection of that water into clean sections of the aquifer. Under this philosophy, the polluters would pay as much as possible at the front end, saving citizens expenses down the road.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the agency charged with policing groundwater cleanup, is moving toward the new national Superfund plan. The agency's director says the DWR approach is too expensive for polluters. While the officials argue, the TCE contamination is spreading and, in Phoenix, becoming more of a threat to human health. Some of the TCE spilled from the Motorola 52nd Street semiconductor factory has degraded into vinyl chloride, a chemical known to cause cancer in humans.
There also is a continuing debate among water officials over whether the aquifer polluted by Motorola 52nd Street will be tapped during a severe drought. Phoenix drought planners have essentially written off the aquifer contaminated with extensive TCE pollution, saying this groundwater will not be needed in dry cycles; state officials disagree, saying the aquifer is vital during a severe dry spell. These same state officials warn that making contaminated water safe for consumption is costly.
"Having polluted groundwater is like having no groundwater unless citizens are willing to incur the high cost to treat it at the wellhead," says Herb Dishlipp, deputy director for water management at the Department of Water Resources. "If groundwater is contaminated and you need to use it in time of drought, it will be very expensive."
Central to all of these debates are the same disturbing questions.
Who will ultimately pay for the TCE disaster in the groundwater beneath the Valley, especially if it takes hundreds of years? Who will pay to clean up polluted groundwater pumped out of public wells if the Valley is hit by an unexpected drought such as the one in Los Angeles?
Will the polluters pay?
Or the citizens?
@body:Hundred-year droughts have always brought disaster to the Salt River Valley.
They are called "hundred-year droughts" because they are of such severity that they have only a 1 percent chance of occurrence in any given year.
Lasting from seven to ten years, these cycles of scant rainfall occur in distant northern Arizona mountains that feed the Salt and Verde rivers, Phoenix's main water supplies.
The last hundred-year drought ravaged Phoenix at the turn of the century.
Scientists do not know when the next drought will come.
The Hohokam Indians were the first in the Valley to irrigate their farms with canals stretching out from the Salt River. The Indians fled the area 500 years ago. One theory claims the Hohokam exodus was caused by a severe dry cycle.
Settlers rebuilt the Hohokam canals and prospered in the late 19th century.
For a while.
Until the drought of 1897 to 1904, the worst drought since locals began recording the river's flow. Farms deteriorated into wastelands. Hundreds of settlers again abandoned the Valley.
Those who stayed on rationed what little water was left. Some were forced to survive, along with their animals, on fruits from prickly pear cacti and beans from mesquite trees.
A desert cowboy later recalled that during the height of this hundred-year drought, he and his horse encountered a newborn calf trying to suckle its mother, who had died of thirst. The calf "looked at me pleadingly, but there was nothing I could do for it, so I rode on with sorrow in my heart, thinking of the ruthless cruel ways of nature," the cowboy later wrote.
Then the rains came.
The survivors of the 1897 drought vowed they'd never again be thirsty. They built a series of dams on the Salt River, and its tributary, the Verde River, to sustain them during dry cycles. But the lakes, as it turned out, disappointed them.
Fifty years later, from 1940 to 1950, a drought far less severe than the drought of 1897 ravaged the northern mountains that fed the rivers. The lakes on the Salt and Verde shrank to ponds. In some places, lake beds were mud flats, and a man could thrust his entire arm down into giant cracks in the dried earth.
It was during this last drought crisis that forward-thinking Phoenicians began to realize that the Valley could not prosper, indeed, could not survive, unless it had a viable drought plan.
The solution had two camps--those who wanted to conserve the groundwater and those who believed that technology could bring in water from distant places. Both sides have had their victories.
Some leaders with foresight, such as former Governor Bruce Babbitt and Wes Steiner, the first director of the Department of Water Resources and a noted authority on water issues in the West, said the key to drought survival lay in a vast basin of groundwater--hundreds of millions of gallons of it--that stretched beneath the Valley from one mountain range to another. They saw that farmers and city dwellers alike were pumping the groundwater faster than nature could replace it. They understood that unless the groundwater was preserved, a drought might once again drive people out of the desert.
Other Valley leaders, such as Senator Barry Goldwater, insisted that it would be possible to combat hundred-year droughts with the magic of modern technology. The champions of technology pushed for the taxpayer-funded Central Arizona Project--a $3.7 billion, 336-mile concrete aqueduct designed to pump water uphill all the way from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson. But this water supply is unpredictable, overcommitted and subject to Indian claims, which are now making their way through the courts.
From the beginning, groundwater has been a highly politicized issue in Arizona.
In 1980 Governor Babbitt and the groundwater advocates scored a victory. Arizona legislators passed a new law to protect and preserve the state's groundwater as a natural resource, to limit its pumping in order to preserve it for the future.
Essentially, the 1980 groundwater code says that by the year 2025, Arizonans cannot withdraw more groundwater than is replaced by nature. The goal is to store water underground so that it can be used during droughts.
With the new law came a new state agency, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (DWR), charged as keepers of the groundwater "bank account." "The groundwater basin ought to be considered the flywheel for the water supply," says Steiner, the water expert who became the first DWR director. "When there are droughts, you can pump the groundwater and sustain urban development. When water is plentiful in the rivers, then you don't pump groundwater and let it replenish."
Shortly after the 1980 groundwater law was passed, severe and extensive groundwater pollution was discovered in the Valley's groundwater bank account.
Ironically, DWR, the agency that promotes the idea of forcing polluters to finance full-scale cleanup efforts today in order to protect water in the future, was never trusted by environmentalists. Former DWR hydrologist Phil Briggs says environmentalists viewed DWR as a puppet of large water users, such as the cities.
As a result, in 1986 Babbitt pushed for a new state agency, the Department of Environmental Quality. One of DEQ's principal duties is to police the purity of the state's groundwater.
Briggs fought hard in the late 1980s to ensure that DWR would have some say in groundwater cleanup, but supervision of cleanups across the state has been, in most cases, handled by the rival agency DEQ.
Now DWR's efforts to have even a small voice in cleanup are being destroyed by Project SLIM, Governor Fife Symington's cost-cutting panel, which has demanded that DWR fire its water-quality staff.
Governor Symington's Project SLIM panel has also demanded that DEQ slash its staff by nearly one-third. What this means is that Arizona's groundwater pollution will be monitored by a state agency, DEQ, that is losing its staffing ability to police contamination at the same time that the agency's director is moving toward federal policies that are in tune to the plight of industries that have mishandled hazardous waste.
The prospects are alarming.
One of Arizona's most troublesome pollutants is TCE, and the worst TCE spill in Arizona originates beneath the Motorola semiconductor factory at 52nd Street and McDowell in Phoenix.
Unlike the Scottsdale plant, the Phoenix plant does not manufacture defense products and cannot bill the United States government for its Superfund expenses, says Motorola spokesman Moore.
But the cost to citizens remains to be seen.
The Phoenix plume is so vast it has yet to be charted. It stretches westward from the plant someplace past 24th Street into one of the Valley's most productive aquifers. The contamination is spreading, and thus far cleanup plans agreed to by Motorola do not address the migration of the largest expanse of the plume.
Environmental officials fear the migrating Motorola plume, if not checked, might mix with other plumes from other companies, possibly forming a "Superplume" that is far more toxic than any single plume. Chemicals such as TCE could contaminate the "entire area from the Papago Buttes to Luke Air Force Base," says Tom Curry, a DEQ water official. "We think it's a significant problem," he says with more than a little frustration. "This is a drinking-water aquifer. Let's get it cleaned up."
Herb Dishlipp of DWR says he fears that unless the traveling plumes are stopped, they will infect clean parts of the aquifer that should be counted on as a reserve in times of drought. If the aquifer is extensively contaminated, water pumped out must be cleaned before it is served to citizens, he says.
This may force citizens' water bills to skyrocket, says Dishlipp.
As an example of what could happen in Arizona, state officials point to the current disaster in Southern California.
@body:In Southern California, struggling through its sixth year of severe drought, there is no question who pays the ultimate cost of groundwater pollution. The citizens pay.
"The water ratepayer ends up paying. That may or may not be fair," says Don Adams, director of resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The agency sells water to the thirsty cities in the southern section of the state, including San Diego and Los Angeles.
Don Adams is, quite possibly, one of the most harried water officials in the United States. There is not enough water in California to supply both the farms and the cities. So California farmers are allowed federally subsidized water that is imported from distant rivers.
There are no similar subsidies for drinking water for city dwellers, however, and Adams' challenge is to somehow find the water and deliver it to the cities, regardless of the cost.
Like Arizona, California relies on surface water that has its genesis in the northern highlands. When the reservoirs of northern California began drying up because the mountains had little rainfall, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was forced to pump polluted groundwater in order to supply one-third of Southern California's water needs.
A full quarter of this groundwater comes from an aquifer that stretches beneath the San Gabriel Valley. The aquifer is tainted with TCE and other solvents, Adams says. Adams is not hopeful that the aquifer will ever be cleaned up in "geologic time."
"I'm not sure you can ever get the solvents out," he says. "You just continue to treat at the wellhead," says Adams.
Of 300 wells drilled into the San Gabriel aquifer, about 70 have been shut down due to contamination by solvents such as TCE. But in times of thirst, polluted water is better than no water at all. Thus far, five wells were retrofitted with "pump-and-treat" equipment to pump out groundwater, strip it of solvents, and serve it to customers. This triples the wholesale cost of water.
And there may be additional costs soon. In part because the drought has not abated in the northern section of the state, Adams says, the district is considering installing a $400 million water-treatment plant to cleanse groundwater of solvents and other chemicals, as well as some minerals.
Who will pay?
The ratepayers, he says.
It may not be fair, but that's the way it is.
"You might say those who dirtied the nest have to pay," Adams tells New Times. "That's good in concept but tough to execute. No polluter in the San Gabriel basin has paid.
"In Arizona you will conclude that after long, long struggles with the EPA and polluters, not much happens except for studies--and consultants and lawyers make a lot of money."
@body:Unlike Los Angeles, Phoenix is not in the clutches of a drought.
And should the Valley suffer the ravages of a hundred-year drought in the near future, it has more groundwater reserves than Southern California, thanks to the 1980 groundwater code.
The Valley's groundwater treasure hides in a huge basin that is enclosed by hard-rock mountains. To the east, there are the Superstitions. To the north, the New River mountains. To the west, the Vultures and the Big Horns. To the south, the Gila Bend Mountains, the Sierra Estrella, South Mountain and the San Tans. On the southern end of the basin is the Salt River.
Bisecting the basin, traveling from the northwest to the southeast, is the CAP aqueduct, a concrete ditch that shoots a ribbon of Colorado River water uphill from Lake Havasu through Phoenix and on to Tucson. Within the vast basin are smaller aquifers. They are cut off from each other by the underground rock of smaller mountains, the Papago Buttes, for instance.
One of the largest and most productive aquifers in the entire basin stretches from the Papago Buttes to the White Tank Mountains, and from the north Phoenix mountains down to the Salt River.
In other words, this aquifer extends beneath the city of Phoenix. Which is why its southern half, which sits below the industrial districts of Phoenix, is tainted with TCE and other solvents.
Consider the scope of the pollution: State-designated study areas for TCE contamination in the aquifer stretch from the Motorola site on 52nd Street west to 83rd Avenue, from the Salt River up to Camelback Road.
TCE in this aquifer alone has thus far forced the closure of five City of Phoenix public drinking-water wells--with the total pumping capacity of four million gallons a day.
The cost to citizens, either now or in the future, is undeniable.
It would cost a total of $5 million to replace the wells, Phoenix water officials say.
It would cost from $750,000 to $1 million to add equipment on the old wells so that TCE could be cleaned from the drinking water.
Several drinking-water wells in the west-side farming town of Tolleson are now threatened by this TCE pollution in the aquifer, state regulators say.
In the area of Motorola 52nd Street, at least two private citizens have lost wells that they had used for drinking and irrigating their land.
Despite this documented loss, and despite the fact that the Superfund law allows states to sue polluters for damage to groundwater resources, the state has yet to sue any polluter for so-called "loss of resource."
Edward Fox, the DEQ director who is also an environmental lawyer, says the state has yet to sue polluters because the state has yet to determine the extent of the damage to the resource.
Although hundreds of industries are guilty of the pollution in the aquifer underlying most of Phoenix, the worst spill comes from the Phoenix Motorola semiconductor plant, for decades the largest plant of its kind in the world.
Regulators themselves seem amazed at the extent of the pollution. One TCE reading beneath the plant was 900,000 times more than the allowable federal limit for TCE in drinking water.
"In fact, this is one of the highest concentrations of TCE in groundwater anyone has ever found," DEQ spokesman John Godec told a citizens group recently. "We know the plume is immense and the concentrations are extraordinary."
The Motorola semiconductor plant sits on the westernmost edge of the Papago Buttes. This is a high point over the aquifer, which means that contaminated groundwater from beneath the plant tends to flow faster than most groundwater, DEQ and DWR officials say.
The plume of contamination is moving westward underground from the plant for miles to someplace beyond 24th Street.
Despite the fact that the pollution was discovered ten years ago, the state regulators entrusted with this particular cleanup have thus far only forced Motorola to attempt cleanup of a small portion of the plume.
There is no assurance that the entire plume will be cleaned up.
A 1989 agreement, called a "consent decree" between Motorola and the state, "only covers a small portion of the plume." "I know there's a much bigger plume," says Dave Ronald, an assistant attorney general in the environmental section that negotiated the agreement with Motorola on behalf of the state.
"The consent decree doesn't cover the largest portion of the contamination. It doesn't cover anything else that Motorola may have been responsible for," he says.
Although Motorola has yet to commit to cleaning up the entire plume, it has in ten years spent a total of $30 million thus far on both the 52nd Street and Scottsdale sites.
A look at Motorola's 1991 annual report to stockholders puts this ten-year expenditure into perspective: The $30 million represents 2.3 percent of one year's cash flow (1991), which was $1.36 billion.
Company spokesman Lawrence Moore says Motorola is working with the federal and state regulators to "identify" what further cleanup of the Phoenix site is "necessary." For several months, Motorola has been "pumping and treating" groundwater--pumping the water from the ground, stripping it of TCE by shooting it through an air tower, and piping it into the semiconductor factory for industrial purposes.
Both Motorola and the state say they hope this will keep the highest concentrations of contamination from spreading.
Recently, the company agreed to sink test wells on the west side of the canal to measure the spread of the contamination. The existence of the wells, however, does not guarantee that Motorola will commit to long-term cleanup of the majority of the plume.
What officials fear is that the largest part of the Motorola plume that is not being addressed might be flowing into other plumes of TCE contamination downstream in the so-called East Washington groundwater-pollution study area. If the Motorola plume has blended with other plumes, it will be "tricky" and "challenging" to find out who is responsible for how much of the mess, says Jacqueline Maye, who oversees the Motorola 52nd Street "remediation" for the state. The aquifer also has another potential problem: TCE can change over time into a far more dangerous chemical, the virulent carcinogen vinyl chloride.
No one knows how much of the aquifer's TCE has degraded into the dangerous chemical, but several test wells located between 48th Street and the Motorola 52nd Street plant have produced water tainted with vinyl chloride, says Keith Ross, a DEQ hydrologist.
@body:Like quarreling siblings, the two state agencies entrusted with protecting our groundwater have long battled over bureaucratic turf. They argue especially over what to do about the extensive groundwater damage caused by Motorola and other high-tech industries.
The Department of Water Resources, whose main mission it is to preserve the groundwater, favors forcing polluters to pump and treat as much as possible today.
If the aquifer is dirty, then water that has been pumped and treated could be reinjected into a clean area, says Bruce Davis, chief of water management for the agency. "We have polluters here today," says Davis. "We know what the costs are now. In today's dollars. If we don't make them clean up now, the plume may grow. Then we are left with treating water at the wellhead down the road, probably at much greater cost and at taxpayer expense."
But Bruce Davis can do no more than talk about the contaminated aquifer. DWR has little authority to enforce cleanup. Instead, that responsibility goes to DEQ, largely because the legislature did not want to make DWR too powerful, says Wes Steiner, the agency's first director.
"It is an arbitrary division with ragged edges," says current DWR director Elizabeth Rieke. "We have a major stake in keeping this resource clean but we can't enforce all cleanup laws. And our obligation is to ensure a water supply for future generations. It is wonderful to have so much groundwater, but if it's polluted, its value is diminished."
Soon the department may have even less influence in the fate of the state's groundwater pollution. The entire DWR water-quality staff has been targeted for layoffs by the governor's Project SLIM cost-cutting brigade. Rieke, who is battling to save at least some of the positions, says she "never sensed" that SLIM's recommendations were political in nature.
Ed Fox, Rieke's counterpart at DEQ, once represented industries in environmental matters. At a recent gathering of Superfund officials (see related story), Fox exhorted them not to treat polluting industries as "criminals." "I've been on both sides of the fence," he told the Superfund managers. "We haven't lost our obligation to be benevolent."
Fox is respected by environmentalists and industry alike, and says he is "committed" to finding ways to prevent taxpayers from paying the bills of polluters.
Although he won't give a time frame, Fox says he will bring Motorola and other polluters "to the table" to look at options for groundwater cleanup. Although Fox says he is considering several proposals, he has not ruled out the idea of forcing Motorola to pay money into a trust fund so that taxpayers wouldn't have to pay for cleanup in the future.
This doesn't sit well with Motorola.
"We don't really consider the establishment of a trust fund necessary," says Moore. "We cannot foresee a time when Motorola would not be here to behave as a responsible corporate citizen. Therefore, a trust fund is unnecessary. We have a continuing commitment to cooperate with government authorities."
@body:While water officials bicker over who pays to clean up the contamination and when, the pivotal question remains whether the polluted aquifer will be tapped in times of severe drought. And whether it will be tapped soon.
Phoenix drought officials have essentially written off the TCE pollution in their drought plan, saying they do not need to draw from this dirty aquifer.
"As you look at the facts, I think you'll agree that while there are many aspects concerning the potential effects of TCE, its effect related to supplies of water during a drought is comparatively small," wrote Bing Brown in a note accompanying the city's drought plan.
Brown, the spokesman for the Phoenix Water and Wastewater Department, is an Arizona native. He is well-acquainted with droughts. He remembers hauling drums of water in his father's Jeep to quench the thirst of cattle on the family's Prescott ranch during the drought in 1950.
Even so, he embraces the city's drought plan, which writes off an entire stretch of one of the most productive aquifers in the Valley.
Brown says the city can get by without its TCE-polluted groundwater, even in a hundred-year drought. In times of severe drought, he says, the city would have to rely on groundwater for 30 percent of its total supply. If wells are shut down by TCE, he says, the city can drill wells in the northern Valley, where there is a clean aquifer.
Of course, at today's prices that would cost citizens $1 million per well.
And the aquifer in the northern part of the Valley is not nearly as productive as the aquifer underlying Phoenix, says Wes Steiner.
Mostly, though, the city trusts an abundant supply of water from distant rivers and the technology that will bring it to the desert.
Incredibly, should a severe drought hit, the city is prepared to run pipes--at the taxpayers' expense--from a $30 million "water ranch" in Salome, some 100 miles to the west, to Phoenix.
Other water from distant places--surface water from either CAP or SRP--will always be available, city officials say, because it's unlikely that both the Salt River and Colorado River watersheds will experience a drought at the same time.
Other knowledgeable water officials disagree.
"It is possible that the Salt River and the Colorado River would experience droughts at the same time," says Larry Dozier, assistant general manager for the Central Arizona Project.
In a severe drought, SRP lakes would dry up in seven years, their officials say.
Given this short life span for the lakes, it is particularly alarming that the CAP allocation for Arizona would be cut by 40 percent if there were a simultaneous drought in the CAP watershed.
What's more, the Colorado River is already overallocated; that is, more water has been promised to thirsty desert states than the river can produce, Dozier adds. Furthermore, until negotiations with Indian tribes are completed, no one knows for sure how much water the cities will actually get. If the tribes get their way in court, they may be granted large chunks of water previously allocated to the cities.
"The CAP may take care of urban water needs until the year 2010," says Wes Steiner. "But eventually it will be necessary to pump water from that aquifer and treat it."
What it all boils down to is that in times of drought, the city may need its TCE-polluted aquifer sooner than it thinks.
Should this happen, officials are resigned to the fact that citizens will pay the costs.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"The unfortunate truth to this is that the ratepayer will pay" for cleanup, says Steiner. A typical water bill might shoot up from $30 a month to $150 a month for a "fair-sized home," he says.
"We are all going to pay one way or the other," says Phil Briggs, the former DWR official. "We either pay in our taxes or water rates or in the price of products. If Motorola gets to the point that environmental costs are so high they can't compete in a global market, and have to fold up and close, then we have to pay with loss of jobs.
"We are always the ones who have to pay."
NATIONAL SUPERFUND SHIFT UNVIELED IN PHO... v8-19-92