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Tucson community members can tune in Thursday to hear about groundwater cleanup

Community members in Tucson can tune in to a Zoom call Thursday evening to hear from Department of Defense personnel about the future of cleaning up groundwater. 

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik says the situation is especially urgent now. Late last month, the Bureau of Reclamation told lower basin states including Arizona that they need to conserve an additional 2 million-4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water to preserve the supply, even for 2023.

"We had not envisioned the need to reach into the groundwater anytime soon until the Bureau of Reclamation reached out and threw that curveball at us a couple weeks ago," Kozachik said.  

But some Tucson groundwater is still contaminated by PFAS, a group of chemicals linked to a range of health issues like cancer. The chemicals were present in a firefighting foam that was used for years at the Davis Monthan Air Force base and have compromised the groundwater nearby.

PFAS are a broad group of chemicals found in products ranging from nonstick cookware to waterproof material. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was tightening guidelines on some chemicals within the PFAS family that are present in Tucson and elsewhere.  

The city is working to clean that water now, part of an effort to get the supply to ready to be potable. But the process is expensive, Kozachik says the city has already committed some $50 million of its own money to the effort. He says Federal entities must take part in funding the clean up.

"We're keeping a record of that, and they will need to make us whole at some point," he said. "This is going to be multiple treatment plans around the community because the problem exists around the community ... and the fact that the EPA dropped the contamination level less than one part per trillion and the fact that the Colorado River is drying up ... it's a right now issue."

Kozachik said the purpose of hosting the meeting is to allow community members to hear from the Department of Defense about what's going on with the cleanup, and what is still to come.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.