As the Rim country squares off over water, a giant shadow hovers over a 13,000-square-mile area of rural Arizona known as the SRP watershed.
That shadow is cast by Salt River Project, a Valley-based conglomerate with a 100-year-old mandate "to protect and ensure that the water resources from this region would be available for use by (SRP's) water users..."
And all this time, we thought the problem up here was a shortage of water. In reality, there is a lot of water, but most of it is sent down to desert locales to help create a surreal lifestyle complete with Bermuda grass lawns, subdivisions with lakes, and hundreds of thirsty golf courses.
Ask Town of Payson Public Works Director Buzz Walker about SRP sometime. He'll tell you they are in his face every time he turns around. It has reached the point where Walker doesn't know where to turn next.
Walker says he doesn't pretend to challenge SRP's legal rights. What he objects to is century-old rules that reflect a world that no longer exists. SRP's original goal was to provide water to Valley farmers. Now, it supplies water to an entire metropolis, California even.
Walker says SRP "interjects themselves into every single water measure in the state of Arizona. Everything you try to do, they have an argument and a supposed reason why you can't do it."
Like Rich Martin, group leader for physical resources for the Tonto National Forest, says, "It's always a source of aggravation to mountain communities who see water flowing by the front door and down to the Valley."
If you're Buzz Walker, the man who likes to say he's responsible for making sure water comes out every time somebody in Payson turns on a spigot, it goes beyond aggravation.
We're reminded of Ernestine the telephone operator's famous line in the classic Lily Tomlin routine: "We're the phone company. We don't have to care."
Maybe not. But like Walker says, "You have to have some kind of faith that some day reason will prevail."