A deal with the Gila River Indian Community could deliver billions of gallons of drinking water to southeast Mesa, fueling the area’s development in exchange for billions of gallons in effluent.
“It’s our next pocket of water,’’ City Manager Chris Brady said. “It’s going to be our lifeline for the future expansion of southeast Mesa.’’
While the deal would help both parties – with the Native American community receiving water for irrigating crops and Mesa receiving drinking water at a cut-rate price – there is a catch.
It’s an eight-to-10-mile pipeline, costing at least $66 million and whose construction will wreak havoc on traffic in its path, no matter which route is chosen.
But long-term, “we will recover that $60 million. This is an investment in our next bucket of water,’’ Brady said.
Mesa would be building a pipe system to deliver treated effluent from the Northwest Mesa plant to a hookup with the Gila River Indian Community’s pipeline near Baseline and Recker roads.
A map shown during at least two Mesa City Council study sessions plots the pipeline heading south along Val Vista Drive until it takes a sharp turn and heads east along Baseline Road.
Jake West, Mesa’s water resources director, said officials will study the issue for at least a year before determining the best alignment.
Selecting the best route is more complicated than it might seem, he said, because of the need to negotiate the labyrinth of underground utilities and other potential obstacles.
“This is just an illustration. We have no idea where the alignment is,’’ West said. “We’re just in the beginning of an alignment study to make it as successful and economically done as possible.’’
The route’s eventual selection will help city officials fine-tune the projected cost.
But West is convinced the pipeline is absolutely necessary to assure the city’s long-term needs.
Mesa would be trading 13,400 acre-feet of effluent, or a staggering 4.4 billion gallons, for 10,700-acre-feet of Central Arizona Project water, or 3.5 billion gallons.
“I think it would be a wise investment,’’ West said.
Although no vote was taken, the Mesa City Council appeared to support the recommendation of water officials to make the pipeline a top priority as part of $263.5 million in projects for the next three years as part of a capital improvement plan.
The next step will be deciding how to pay for it – with a combination of bond issues and funds from the city’s enterprise fund, a likely solution.
The effluent would begin its journey at the Northwest Wastewater Treatment plant near Dobson Road and the Loop 202 and travel through the new underground pipeline to the southeast corner of the city.
The billions of gallons in Central Arizona Project water come in the form of water credits allotted to the Gila River Indian Community.
The Native American community has not used the credits because it has no way to get water to their area, West said.
“It’s cheaper than other sources of water out there,’’ West said, because of federal subsidies available to Native American communities.
Brian Draper, Mesa’s water resources manager, said the cost savings are significant.
He said another city recently spent $10,000 per acre-foot for Central Arizona Project water while the Indian Community’s water would cost only $52 per acre-foot.
Draper said the water supply is especially critical for southeast Mesa because it falls outside the Salt River Project’s eastern boundary, the Eastern Canal.
He said Mesa uses Salt River Project water to the west of the Eastern Canal and treated Central Arizona Project water east of the canal.
SRP still provides electrical service to east Mesa, a vital component of its explosive growth in data centers located in the Elliot Road Technology Corridor as well as rapidly growing communities like Eastmark.
“Without this water, we will be maxed out in the next couple of years on the Central Arizona Project water,’’ Draper said.
Eventually, when the pipeline is built and the Gila River water is added to the supply, it will represent about a third of the city’s supply of Central Arizona Project water, he said.
“They have the rights to the water but they can’t get it to their land,’’ Brady said of the Gila River Indian Community. With the water exchange, “we’ll be able to get more water at a much cheaper rate.’’
The pipeline represents an attempt by Mesa to plan for the future, Brady said, realizing that “we know we are going to need this water at some point.’’
West said the additional water would support all sorts of growth in southeast Mesa, ranging from residential communities to the planned Google data center. Officials emphasized the pipeline is not intended for Google’s use alone.
Mesa entered into a tax-incentive agreement with Google earlier this year.
A presentation at that time said Google would require a substantial amount of water for cooling purposes. Other data centers in that area plan to rely more on electricity.
The Google agreement calls for Mesa to supply Google with 1,120-acre-feet of water per year initially, with the amount to grow to 4,480-acre- feet per year if the technology heavyweight reaches certain milestones in a development agreement.