The History of Water-use in the Tucson Basin


Ian Gregor











Water Resource in the Tucson Basin: Natural Resources

AR&S 195a-13




November 20, 1997



The History of Water-use in the Tucson Basin

Ian Gregor


The tapping of the water resources in the Tucson Basin enabled a small Pueblo town to grow into the city of Tucson that is today. The water in the Tucson Basin has helped half a million people with water and helped stimulate a growing economy. Conditions in the future may change, as underground water resources are limited. So how we address water questions today, might change the future history of the city. A time line of key water developments is given from 1881-1985.





The groundwater resources in the Tucson Basin are a necessity that the city of Tucson takes for granted. The study of history of the water-use in the city will give residents a better perceptive on water sources and their limitations. Tucson Water, the city of Tucson’s water utility, is now the largest municipal water utility in southern Arizona, serving more than half a million people. When it started in 1882, Tucson was no longer the territorial capital, and a dozen years away of being know nationally. Mining, ranching, farming, the railroad and The University of Arizona made the Old Pueblo, as it is known, a city with a promising future.

There have been a lot of changes since 1882 to the present day, when we just had one well and pipeline to work with. The Tucson Water has grown into a modern, usable utility with 643 wells and 3,000 miles of pipelines. The importance of having Tucsonans receives high-quality water still remains a necessity of living for everyone today as it has been in the past.



The most helpful place I found resources was at the Arizona Historical Society Museum, located at the corner of Park and Second Avenue, in Tucson, Arizona. I found a book entitled The History of Water-use in the Tucson Basin (386.6 T898W). Another book that Professor J. Riley gave me was How People Have Affected the Rivers by Barbara Tellman, Richard Yarde, and Mary G. Wallace. Using Netscape, I found some Internet sources under, but could not of done this part without the help of Claire B Macha, Reference Librarian, Science and Engineering Library at the University of Arizona. The class met her during

training on the Internet and I met with her separately to get help in the Science-Engineering Library were her office is located on the second floor in 2 North. I found a local source on the Internet when looking through the web search which was syllfl97.htm. , our class page.



In 1881 the city of Tucson awarded a franchise to former Mayor R.N. Leatherwood for the construction of a water system. On September 16, 1882, the citizens of Tucson celebrated as the first water from a privately owned Tucson Water Company gushed from a hydrant at the corner of Congress Street and Main Avenue. The source was a single well located four miles south of the city on the banks of the Santa Cruz River. The water flowed by gravity through a single 10-inch pipe. The water system for Tucsonans meant more than a safe and reliable source of drinking water--it meant fire protection and an assured future for their city, with plumbing, drinking water, agriculture and other resources in the area.

After Tucson delivered its first piped water, it established a water and sewer commission in 1898. Then In 1900, the City of Tucson purchased the Tucson Water Company for $110,000 with bonds authorized by the U.S. Congress. Some original facilities from 1900 are still in use today, including the booster pumping station that serves as the nucleus of Tucson Water’s operations center. Tucson Water concentrated on planning and financing additions to the system, such as new wells, mains and reservoirs until the late 1930’s.

After the 1940’s, the Tucson Metropolitan area began to grow rapidly outside the city limits, and the City began to annex large areas. Small water companies were purchased and incorporated into the municipal system. Right now, 100 private systems have been acquired and are pumping high-quality water from groundwater resources (The History of Water-Use in the Tucson Basin). Since 1950, Tucson Water has expanded its services each decade (The History if Water –Use in the Tucson Basin).

Tucson Water has been now as one of the most conservation-conscious utilities in the Southwest. In the 11th year of "Beat the Peak" program, Tucson Water asked residents again not to water outdoors during peak usage hours, or in other words, when the sun is at its highest. In response to the Beat the Peak program, people used less water overall in 1995. Water conservation was also encourages with ideas such as the "water wheel", which gives tips on how to save water in the homes.

The cost of water has been for a long time adjusted by season. Since 1976, customers have paid more for water during the summer. This rate structure was designed to encourage lower water use during months when demands are at there highest. The increase in people within the basin brings up issues, such as "where are we going to get our water in the future?"



I believe that the use of ground water was the only way Tucson was could have become the city it is today. But the problem is that I really don’t think that the original Tucsonans thought that someday they would be asking questions such as, "Where are we going to get water after the ground water goes?" Sometimes it makes me wonder about the effect water shortages would have on the economy. If the water underground gets to the point were there isn’t much left then that’s going to mean that Tucsonans will have to stop the growth of businesses, because if they didn’t they would have a bigger water problem with their lifestyle and job situation. So if Tucsonans stop the economic expansion, then, Tucson is probably going to lose people, because its going to affect them getting jobs, thereby making the city less attractive, compared to Los Angeles and Las Vegas.



The current water situation is causing the city of Tucson to look for solutions to answer their question of where they are going to get future water. There is talk about further purification of effluent to make it suitable for drinking. Another way is to try to use the Central Arizona Project water, as that water is being used by major cities such as Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. If we never had the groundwater in the Tucson Basin we might be very well reading this essay about somewhere else in another place.



Time Line


1881- The City of Tucson awards a franchise to former Mayor R.N. Leatherwood for the construction of a water system.


1882- The Tucson Water Company delivers the first piped water from a well four miles south of the city along the Santa Cruz River.


1898- Tucson establishes a water and sewer commission.


1900- The City purchases the Tucson Water Company for $110,000.


1914- Tucson’s first reservoir, holding 1.5 million gallons, is constructed at 18th Street and 11th Avenue.


1915- Growth around the University of Arizona prompts the development of new wells and a second reservoir at Campbell Avenue and Third Street.


1924- The Tucson City Council passes an ordinance requiring that all new water services be metered.


1941- As the City annexes new areas, it begins purchasing them into Tucson Water.


1965- Dramatic- postwar growth creates a "great expansion" of Tucson Water-it’s 9,000 accounts grow to more than 60,000


1980- Purchases of Avra Valley Land begin and a well field is developed. Storage for 90 million gallons of water is constructed.


1984- A new reclaimed water system begins serving the La Paloma golf course. Other major users quickly follow.


1985- Studies commence at the Tucson Water Central Arizona. Project water treatment pilot plant in Phoenix.






1.) Internet:….chive++water%26use%26in%26tucson%26basi

a.) Proposition 200 text

b.) Ground-water pumping killing Ariz. Desert streams, researchers

c.) California really could take the water

d.) Growing Vegas coverts Colorado River water

e.) City unveils plan CAP water

2.) Internet:….star-archive++prop%262C

  1. Prop. 201 wouldn’t survive in court, ex-law dean says
  2. Propositions 201 and 300 merit a resounding no vote

3.) How People Have Affected the Rivers by Barbara Tellman, Richard Yarde, and Mary G. Wallace.

4.) The History of Water-Use in the Tucson Basin in the Historical Museum at the University of Arizona # 386.6 T898W

er from pollutants, either natural or manmade, for drinkable uses.