The Sydney Poitier New American Film School

Arizona State University's building in downtown Mesa is quickly taking shape and as of last week, it now has a name: The Sydney Poitier New American Film School, honoring the legendary Black actor and Academy Award winner.

Mesa has a plan to ensure an economical supply of water to serve fast-growing southeast Mesa, but that doesn’t mean it will be cheap or easy.

A 10 ½ mile pipeline costing $90 million and snaking through east Mesa and through Gilbert would send a large amount of treated effluent to the Gila River Indian Community to irrigate crops.

In return, Mesa would receive rights toward supplies of potable water suitable for drinking after treatment, averting potential shortfalls an estimated four or five years from now in southeast Mesa.

Despite the daunting cost and the disruption of traffic during the pipeline’s construction along parts of Val Vista Drive and Greenfield Road, Mayor John Giles said the pipeline is not only a necessity, but a good long-term investment in creating much-sought high-paying jobs and sales tax revenues.

He said it all boils down to one financial tradeoff: paying $56 per acre foot for the supply from the water credits or more than $200 per acre foot for water purchased on the open market.

“We would very quickly recoup our construction costs,’’ Giles said. “The math is so lop-sided. It’s obvious that this is the right thing to do.’’

Although there is no immediate emergency, City Manager Chris Brady said it is important to plan for long-term growth in southeast Mesa that will start to strain the city’s water supply in four to five years.

“We can meet their phase on development plans, but we’re concerned about phases two and three,’’ Brady said.

He said the need for pipeline will become progressively more urgent. “If that development continues, we are going to get squeezed on our water supplies.’’

The council first discussed the issue about a year ago, when water officials recommended the pipeline and said the next step was to perform an extensive alignment study to locate the cheapest and least inconvenient route.

Brady’s goal is to maximize use of a water deal between Mesa and the Gila River Indian Community dating back to 2008. 

While the Native American community has the water rights, it has no direct access to the Central Arizona Project canal system, while Mesa has a connection that it regularly uses.

“Every year that goes by is a missed opportunity,’’ Brady said.

The effluent would start at the city’s northwest Mesa plant near the Loop 202 and Dobson Road and head east through mostly existing pipes to the Val Vista Drive plant. 

From there, the pipeline would head south on Val Vista for two miles before heading east on McLellan Road.

Eventually, it would turn south onto Greenfield Road and head under U.S. 60 before entering Gilbert, said Chris Hassert, assistant director of Water Resources.

The pipeline’s destination would be a hookup between Baseline and Guadalupe roads near Recker Road, where there is a connection to the Gila River Community. 

“It’s mostly on Greenfield. The first two-miles are down Val Vista,’’ Hassert said, with the portion in Gilbert still under negotiation with Gilbert officials.

“We’ve had some good virtual meeting with Gilbert,’’ he said. “We’re working with their officials to get the best alignment.’’

He said the Gilbert segment of the pipeline would be about two miles long.

With Mesa council members signaling their support for the plan at a recent study session, the next major step is hiring consultants who will design the project, a process that is expected to take 18-24 months.

Hassert said the disruption caused by the pipeline’s construction will be much less extensive than when Mesa rebuilds one of its aging streets or intersections, such as the ongoing rebuild on Mesa Drive between Broadway Road and Main Street.

The pipeline will be built in segments, causing disruptions along the way to specific areas in front of businesses and other properties, he said.

“You might experience disruption for a short time period, like a month,’’ he said.

At a meeting more than a year ago, Mesa officials estimated the cost at $66 million, but they said a more accurate estimate would become possible when a route was chosen.

The original map showed the pipeline heading down Val Vista, but officials called that “an illustration’’ that was bound to change after an extensive, year-long effort to pinpoint a route.

A bond issue would be necessary to finance such a large capital investment, Brady said, with the next potential opportunity for the project to reach a ballot in 2022.

When the pipeline eventually opens, it would allow Mesa to trade a staggering 13,400 acre-feet of effluent a year, or 4.4 billion gallons, for 10,700-acre feet of Central Arizona Project water, or 3.5 billion gallons.

He said the pipeline would allow Mesa to more than double the amount of effluent that it supplies to the Gila Indian Community. 

The city now supplies the Gila Indian Community with about 6,000-to-7,000-acre feet a year, while the maximum allowed is 27,000-acre feet. In return for the effluent, the city receives about an 80 equivalent in water rights. 

“We are woefully short,’’ Hassert said.

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