Cost For Reservoir Water 'Do-Able'

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Bringing water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir down a pipeline into Payson should cost about $13.8 million, according to a recently completed study by ASL Consulting Engineers of Payson.

The cost of bringing an estimated 3,000 acre-feet of water a year to Payson -- three times the amount the town now uses -- is "do-able," said Public Works Director Buzz Walker.

Walker said the recent cost estimate includes a treatment plant at the north end of Payson and about 15 miles of pipeline.

But it is not the only cost the town would be facing for the Blue Ridge water.

Last summer, when town officials calculated the cost of obtaining water outside the town limits, they estimated $30 million for the Blue Ridge project. Walker said the figure is a rough estimate that was used to create water development fees.

In addition to the $13.8 million for a 15-mile pipeline and a treatment plant, there would be costs to acquire the water, for environmental studies, and possible storage of the water.

"It depends on the delivery scenario," Walker said. "As the process unfolds -- it's very preliminary right now -- ($13.8 million) would be the cost of getting it here"

He said there are many different scenarios under which the town can acquire the Blue Ridge water.

"The least expensive would be to pay for it as it's used, like CAP," he said. "The most expensive way is to acquire it."

Walker said that at this point in time, the town has done what it can to obtain the Blue Ridge water.

"The next step is out of our court -- we're waiting for the federal government to finalize plans with the Navajo Nation," he said.

After the Navajos get what they need and other parties obtain their share, what's left of the water in the Blue Ridge Reservoir would be sent over the Mogollon Rim.

But it will be a while before that first trickle of precious liquid flows over the Rim and into the faucets and spigots of the growing communities below.

A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., approving an agreement between the Gila River Indian Community and Phelps Dodge, failed to go before the Senate for a vote at the end of the last session. A congressional vote approving the settlement will open the way for the Gila River Indian Community to enter into negotiations for water rights to the Blue Ridge water with Payson and Pine-Strawberry.

The agreement between Phelps Dodge and the Gila River Indian Community was signed on May 4. The settlement was considered to be a major breakthrough toward negotiations on water rights.

The bill will have to be introduced by another legislator because Kyl is no longer a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs. A spokeswoman in Kyl's office said she did not know just who would be re-introducing the bill or when that would happen.

Up to this point, the settlement process has been long and difficult, and, as Kyl described it when he introduced the bill in October 1998, "an often frustrating process."

Walker said, "We just sit here hopefully in the position to talk intelligently when the time comes.

"You hang around for enough decades and something will open up. When you don't control the pace of the process, you just have to be patient."

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