Rainwater Harvesting Rules Have Developers Worried

Rainwater Harvesting Rules Have Developers Worried

They question how standards will affect their bottom lines

CARLI BROSSEAU
Published: 07.23.2008

Tucson, AZ

When local developers heard they may be required to harvest enough rainwater to irrigate 75 percent of the landscaping on any new property they develop, they got nervous.

Then they started asking questions: How much will this cost? How will it work? Will I need to buy cisterns? Have they considered that those things are ugly?

Through the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan-Pima Alliance, a developer lobbying group, they submitted 49 questions. All the questions were answered by city staff and announced at a meeting Tuesday in Councilman Rodney Glassman’s office, 7575 E. Speedway Blvd.

About 60 people – mostly developers and some rainwater harvesting specialists – showed up to hear them. The cost depends on the site and the method of harvesting. No development standards have been set yet. There’s no requirement to buy cisterns. The ugliness factor was not explicitly discussed by the stakeholder group the City Council appointed to guide rainwater harvesting and graywater plumbing policy.

Developers were reassured by Ernie Duarte, the director of the Department of Development Services, that there will be a public hearing Oct. 18 before the City Council. They were disappointed to learn the development standards – the rules that would govern the details and, ultimately, the bottom line – would not be finalized until after the ordinance passes. That’s common practice, Linus Kafka, a city attorney, said.

Glassman, who organized the meeting and has been pushing for the ordinance, said the meeting was a success.

“For the first time ever, there’s 60-plus developers who came here today, offering to work with the city on the use of potable water in community development. That’s huge.”

George Larsen, a developer who has worked with the city on the stakeholder group that helped create the proposed ordinance, said: “The goal, in my opinion, is achievable. What we’re struggling with is how to achieve it. There were definitely more unanswered questions than answered ones.”

The tone of the questions revealed a sense of resentment among developers for having been left out of the process. The stakeholder group on which Larsen served has met 11 times since January.

In a conciliatory move, Duarte invited developers to participate in the group that will set the detailed standards.

There was another, larger note of compromise. Duarte said the city would not enforce the rule during times of drought and would inspect only when businesses get a certificate of occupancy, a document necessary to open a business. There would be no inspections after expansions or changes of tenants and no “water-harvesting police,” he said.

If passed, the ordinance would take effect June 1, 2010.

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