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San Tan Valley community continues fight to get running water

Posted: 6:59 PM, Sep 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-10 22:10:22-04
Johnson Utilities lifts drinking water ban

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ — A community's fight to get running water continues, this time in front of the Arizona Corporation Commission - the agency in charge of serving as a watchdog for private utilities companies in Arizona.

Several San Tan Valley residents showed up for a public meeting Tuesday morning to voice their concerns about the lack of running water in their neighborhood. Water they have been told is coming for the last five years.

These residents live in is a fast growing part of the state with many new housing developments in the works. The problem? These new developments have access to running water, but some sections of the community don't.

Residents have to drive to a stand pipe in the community and haul thousands of gallons of water to their homes once or twice a week.

One concerned resident said sometimes even that's not enough. "On Saturday at 3 o'clock we ran out of water. That's when I realized how important it is to have a main water line connected to the house. We couldn't wash our hands, shower, or use the toilet," said Jose Mejia.

A 12-year old girl also voiced her concerns to commissioners saying she worried because her community did not have access to a reliable source of water. "The stand pipe has been shut down several times due to vandalism and other problems," said Kaitlyn Myers.

It has been a nightmare for residents who purchased properties in Pinal County. Several who have spoken to ABC15 and voiced their concerns to the Arizona Corporation Commission said when they bought their properties in the area, they were shown notices and told Johnson Utilities, the water utility provider in the area, had plans to install water lines in the area.

Now, more than four years later, there are still no water lines, and now corporation commission staff have told residents it's not the utility company's job to pay for them.

This has many residents outraged and questioning how the corporation commission has been handling the issue.

Public documents show elected corporation commission officials asked ACC staff in 2018 to look into why Johnson Utilities had suddenly stopped building water lines in the area.

When ABC15 reached out to corporation commission officials to get some answers, a spokeswoman initially said residents could comment on the issue through a docket on its website.

When pressed by ABC15 on the fact that people had been commenting for a year without results, the commission sent a statement saying Johnson Utilities does not have to pay for the water lines under state law.

Instead, residents have to pay for the infrastructure themselves. Public documents indicate the cost to finish building water lines in this area is just under $400,000.

ABC15 then asked the ACC why residents were being asked to comment instead of being told they had to pay for the work on their own.

More than two weeks after ABC15 started looking into this story, corporation commission staff responded that they are now planning to have "good faith discussions" with a Bonanza Highlands community member, Johnson Utilities, and the third-party company appointed to manage the utility in an effort to see if all parties can reach a solution to this problem.

Nick Myers, a San Tan Valley resident who has been representing his neighbors said those "good faith discussions" took place, but nothing much was accomplished. Johnson Utilities is now expected to come back to the table with some proposals.

Johnson Utilities is a private water company run by George Johnson. The company has been the recipient of mounting public backlash after hundreds of complaints from customers over double billing, water shut offs with no explanation, extremely high water bills with no explanation, and poor customer service. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, a state agency, has filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against the utility for allegedly violating water quality laws.

After receiving complaint after complaint and holding numerous town hall meetings, the Arizona Corporation Commission appointed an interim manager to take control of the troubled company.

Many in the Bonanza Highlands area of San Tan Valley tell ABC15 they can't even sell their properties and move away if they wished to, as nobody wanted to buy property with no water lines hooked up to the plumbing.

Residents who showed up to speak about the stand pipe issue were told to come back at a later date and voice their concerns when the issue was on the agenda. Myers said they would gladly do so.

ABC15 has reached out to the Arizona Corporation Commission to get an update on the progress of this issue. We will keep you posted when we hear back from them.