Pine Placed On Severe Water Restrictions


Sonja Hunt lives in Cool Pines, a development in Pine, and as a vegetarian, she depends on her garden for food. But the community's primary water company, Brooke Utilities, has declared the water supply to be at Stage 5, the most critical level of water conservation.

The company's president Robert Hardcastle said Friday that this is the first time the community has gone to Stage 5, which was implemented July 1 after notice was submitted to the Arizona Corporation Commission.

He said he expects the mandatory conservation regulations, which require residents to cut their usage in half and eliminate all outdoor watering with the exception of livestock, to remain in place for at least 72 hours.

"In the current circumstances, Brooke is striving to do everything reasonably possible to best manage the water systems with the available resources," Hardcastle said.

He said the solution for the regional water supply remains a long way off when there are periods of extreme drought, such as that experienced in northern Gila County this year.

About 1,900 customers are affected by the Stage 5 mandatory water conservation order, which allows the company to disconnect violators on their second offense.

Hunt said the water company that supplies most of the 2,500 year-round residents in Pine has not publicized the crisis enough.

"They could put something in everybody's mailbox," she said. "I swear there are people around here who haven't got a clue there's a water shortage."

Pine-Strawberry Fire Marshal John Varljen is one person who knows about the problem, and he said help is on the way. He said Thursday that he had asked Gila County Emergency Services in Globe to bring potable water tankers to Pine.

"This is coming up Fourth of July weekend and we have a wave of people coming up," he said. Varljen estimated that the two communities of Pine and Strawberry will double their population this weekend from 4,000 to more than 8,000.

Not all residents in Pine are Brooke Utilities customers. Some have private wells; the residents of two subdivisions, Portal IV and Solitude Trails, have their own water districts, and a cooperative, the Pine Water Users Association, has customers along Highway 87.

"We're struggling with the quantity," Lois Krebs, a member of the Pine Water Users Association, said. "The three-day holidays hit us real hard because of the increased usage, but so far, there have been no outages."

The Arizona Corporation Commission decided to allow Brooke the latitude to order mandatory water conservation when the company's storage tanks, which can hold 900,000 gallons of water, dropped below 50 percent for eight consecutive hours, Hardcastle said.

Things were looking good for the water company not long ago. At the first of June, Hardcastle said the company had produced 24 percent more water than it had the same time last year.

Conservation levels did not move to a more critical level until last week when the company went to Stage 3. Hardcastle said then that he expected to declare Stage 4 or 5 by the holiday weekend.

He e-mailed the following information Tuesday to concerned residents in Pine: "Barring unforeseen circumstances, we expect to initiate Stage 5 water conservation levels in Pine on June 30. Water storage supplies are critically low and well production has very recently rapidly decreased, making this a critical situation."

"In four days, we went from Stage 1 to Stage 5," Hunt said. "We used something like 280,000 gallons in two days. What I don't understand is, how quickly the water went down in a few days."

Hardcastle attributed the drastic drop to a combination of factors.

"Modifications in the water conservation signs results from changes in various factors, including water production, storage, customer demand, weather, and other operational factors," he said.

According to information from the Corporation Commission, the mandatory water restrictions are enforced by moratoriums, curtailment orders, and meter disconnections without notice. People who violate the restrictions and have their water disconnected are subject to reconnection fees, deposits, charges and related expenses.

While Stage 5 is in effect, Brooke's customers in Pine are restricted from watering outdoor lawns, trees, shrubs and plants, washing vehicles or any other outdoor area, and water will only be served in restaurants by request.

"What will happen to the garden? I don't know," Hunt said. "My garden is a vegetable garden and it's to feed us because we're vegetarians."

Hardcastle said he is hoping the people in the community will pull together to work through this crisis.

"Our customers have always been responsive and cooperative," he said. "The next few days require our teamwork in the best possible management of the decreased water resources.

"We strongly encourage our customers and their neighbors to observe the 50 percent reduction requirements of the Stage 5 water conservation levels, and, with very few exceptions for livestock, cease all outside watering until this condition passes."

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