In its fourth year as the owner operator of water companies in Pine-Strawberry, Brooke Utilities has for the first time requested a rate increase for the area's 2,600 customers.
Improved monitoring, leak repair and improved well production have boosted water supplies in both Strawberry and Pine, and the costs associated with those repairs are now being passed on to the consumer. A recently approved pipeline will add another incremental improvement and more cost to the system.
During the summer of 1997, Pine customers hit stage four water conservation (strict guidelines including a 40-percent reduction in indoor water use) one week after Memorial Day and did not fully recover until Oct. 13, 1997. Brooke Utilities trucked 4.5 million gallons of water from Strawberry to thirsty Pine residents.
During the summer of 1998 residents again encountered the dread stage four just after Memorial Day, but the water system was able to fully recover by the end of July and required no trucked-in water to avoid water outages. Brooke Utilities owner Robert Hardcastle credits system improvements including two new wells in Pine for the increased production.
In 1999 conservation measures hit stage five, requiring mandatory conservation and monitoring by the Arizona Corporation Commission. Stage five lasted just 19 days and 530,000 gallons of water were hauled from Strawberry to water-poor Pine. Also in the spring of 1999, Brooke filed for a rate increase. With most of the research and hearings complete, it is now up to the Arizona Corporation Commission to decide how large of an increase customers will pay. The hike will likely take effect in June, just as swelling Pine population teeters on the brink of conservation requirements.
To connect the systems between Pine and Strawberry, Brooke proposed building an eight-inch diameter pipe that could carry 300,000 of water per day from Strawberry to Pine or Pine to Strawberry, Hardcastle said. Dubbed Project Magnolia for that flower's incredible thirst, the purpose of the pipeline is to connect the two systems, making one system to serve one community, Hardcastle said.
In the spring of 1999 the U.S. Forest Service approved the project and, pending a right-of-way permit from the Arizona Department of Transportation, the pipeline will be constructed this year. But with a 30- to 60-day preparation period and a 60- to 75-day construction timeline, it is unlikely to be in time to carry water this summer.
The pipeline simplifies the carrying of water from one source to another and is far more cost effective than trucking, Hardcastle said. Once the pipeline is in place, Pine customers will have more than one water resource available.
A water meter moratorium is still in effect for most of Pine. At present, only one new water meter can be installed each month on the E&R water system in Pine. The list is about 17 years long, Hardcastle said. He has not yet asked the ACC to lift or change the moratorium.