Star Valley Residents Fear Forest Drilling

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by Jim Keyworth

roundup staff reporter

Because of concerns expressed by residents of Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows, the U.S. Forest Service has extended the comment period on a proposal by the Town of Payson to drill 21 exploratory wells in the Tonto National Forest.

A July 30 deadline for commenting on the town's water exploration project has now been extended to Sept. 15, District Ranger Ed Armenta said. The Forest Service has also scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Aug. 8 in the Payson High School Auditorium to explain the process used to determine areas to be explored, procedures used to safeguard other resources including surface waters and neighboring wells, and a description of the analysis process used to make the decision, according to a press release issued by the Payson Ranger District.

The Town of Payson submitted an application to the district seeking authorization to drill 21 exploratory wells in the vicinity of Mayfield Canyon, northeast of Payson and north of Star Valley. A geologist retained by the town identified a large multi-faulted block of fractured granite below the Little Diamond Rim that may produce water from a previously untapped source between 500 and 1,000 feet deep.

The town hopes to develop from four to eight production wells, and utilize the other wells for monitoring.

In announcing the deadline extension, Armenta said "many of the residents of Star Valley and the Diamond Point Shadows area have expressed a fear that the town's efforts to find a new water source will impact their wells. We understand their concerns and our intent is to evaluate this proposal to insure that private wells and area springs will not be affected if this project is allowed to move forward."

A meeting last Sunday organized by concerned residents in the Star Valley area drew just over 200 people, according to Star Valley resident Richard Alvarez.

"It's becoming a big issue out here," he said.

Alvarez, who was one of a dozen or so Star Valley residents who protested the exploratory wells at a recent meeting of the Payson Town Council, said another meeting of concerned residents is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Diamond Star Fire Dept.

"Our wells are going down by themselves because of the growth in the area and the lack or rainfall," said Chuck Heron, a member of the opposing steering committee. "We're concerned that a big ring of town wells around us will just deplete things that much more."

In a letter to interested residents, Armenta explained that town exploration on forest lands is contingent on meeting three conditions:

1) That all impacts to forest resources must be either avoided or completely mitigated.

2) That there be no significant impact to water resources on private lands.

3) That long term development be focused on safe yield, whereby water is sustained as a renewable resource.

A three-phase process developed to review any water development proposals includes an initial screening from mapping, aerial photos and field reconnaissance; exploration and testing to determine if water is present and the effects of long-term use; and, finally, construction and storage if it has been adequately demonstrated that there will be no major impacts.

At this point, Armenta said in the letter, the initial screening process for the Mayfield Canyon area has been completed and "there appears to be an opportunity to find deep well water that will not affect forest resources or neighboring wells." Information developed from the second phase of exploration and testing will be thoroughly reviewed by Forest Service hydrologists, geologists and others.

Mike Ploughe, hydrogeologist for the Town of Payson, believes permission will eventually be granted.

"We've done our homework and don't anticipate any problems," he said. "We have worked with the forest service to identify areas that might have archeological or other reasons why we couldn't drill and tried to avoid them."

Comments should be addressed to Rod Byers, Payson Ranger District, 1009 E. Highway 260, Payson, AZ 85541.

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