SAN TAN VALLEY — Needed improvements to Johnson Utilities will take time, but the water supply is good as summer begins, area residents were told last week.

About 45 northern Pinal County residents attended a “utility town hall” Thursday at Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman’s office.

Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, and Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, hosted the event. They were joined by Arizona Corporation Commissioners Boyd Dunn and Justin Olson and several representatives of EPCOR, the interim operator appointed to run JU.

A resident asked about the “status of the system,” including water supply and pressure.

“We are slated to meet the summer water demands,” John Calkins, EPCOR’s regulatory compliance director, told the gathering.

“We’ve asked EPCOR to tell us what the supply of water is and what can be done for future hookups,” Dunn said. “We’ve also heard from the development community which wants to continue building homes. There is a limitation, a pretty strict limitation now, on hookups that can occur, to make certain we don’t overburden the system.”

He said water supply is “something we review on a very regular basis to make certain that we can meet the demand currently and that we don’t overextend what exists today to a degree that would jeopardize quality of service for the existing customer.”

The resident further asked if EPCOR was aware of areas with low water pressure.

EPCOR Operations Manager Jacob Rogers replied the company is required to supply pressure of at least 20 pounds per square inch. “We definitely meet that, but it’s not desirable. It’s not our goal, either. We would like to see everybody at 35-plus,” and the company is planning for those improvements, he said.

Goodman added that he considers 20 psi to be too low a standard and is talking with legislators and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality about improving it.

Rogers said they’ll wait to test fire hydrant pressure in the fall because “we don’t want to put that valuable water on the ground when everybody needs it right now.”

Cleaning the system

Another resident said raw sewage ran down both sides of her street last year.

“I’m sorry you experienced that,” Rogers said. “It’s actually something we’ve worked very hard on. First of all, we’re cleaning the entire collection system. Then there’s a plan for us to clean 20 percent of the system every year, so every five years we’ll do an entire sweep.

“The other big thing we do is monitor the levels of the lift stations.” Rogers said the overflow the resident experienced was due to either a blockage or a lift station that failed to operate. “We’ve got level-monitoring stations in every single lift station across San Tan. As of two or two and a half months ago, that system was fully completed. If the level gets higher than we desire, the system will call us.”

House said the county supervisors are also keenly interested in the utility service San Tan Valley residents receive. “All the board members see this as one of their top priorities. We’ll keep a good eye on the whole situation.”

Another resident noted JU was suing the ACC for hundreds of millions of dollars, and asked if the ACC was prepared to handle such a liability.

“What is alleged in lawsuits are not necessarily facts,” Dunn said, and noted there are some 13 lawsuits involving the ACC and Johnson Utilities. The ACC’s legal department is working on them very diligently, and the ACC doesn’t want EPCOR’s work to be affected, Dunn said. He added there’s “a solid legal basis” for the ACC’s responsibility to customers.

Dunn continued that he can’t discuss pending litigation, but he “wouldn’t lose any sleep” over JU’s allegations, and “I don’t think we’ll be coughing up $350 million.”

Olson added, “It’s going to take time to make all the improvements that are necessary to have the utility at industry standards. The information I’ve been hearing from folks in the community is that the direction the utility is going now with the interim manager is in the positive direction. It’s going to take time to bring the utility up to the standards that we all expect.”

Looking to the future

A 10-year resident said EPCOR is doing a “fantastic job” but wondered what will happen when its three-year contract is up and JU regains control.

Olson replied the interim manager will be in place “as long as necessary” and “until the commission reverses that decision.”

Another resident asked about nitrate levels. Calkins said nitrates are a naturally occurring contaminant that can be worsened by agriculture and septic tanks. Ten milligrams per liter can be a danger to young babies and 20 milligrams can be a hazard to adults. EPCOR addresses it in various ways, including blending high-nitrate water with cleaner water.

Rogers said EPCOR does daily nitrate monitoring, and “I can assure you your nitrate levels are not above eight milligrams per liter.”