Town Out To Widen Search For Water

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Payson water officials, who've identified a promising groundwater site five miles northeast of town, have asked the Tonto National Forest for permission to drill 21 exploratory wells.

The Payson Town Council will discuss the application and other water initiatives during a special budget meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall.

The site "shows promise for groundwater development due to a complex geology ranging from sand and gravel basins to the fractured bedrock of the Diamond Rim fault system," Payson Mayor Ray Schum said.

The area where the new wells will be drilled is about 2.5 miles northeast of Star Valley below and to the west of Diamond Point, town hydrogeologist Mike Ploughe said.

"The Diamond Rim fault system is the one that helped form the Mogollon Rim as it is today," he said.

The area is a promising well site, Ploughe said, because it features large, extensive fault zones. That means it contains large cracks and a number of smaller cracks that could contain water, he said.

Water resource management and development remains the No. 1 council initiative in the town's corporate strategic plan for the 2001-2002 fiscal year beginning July 1. The Payson Town Council will discuss the water section of that plan Thursday.

Underkofler cautioned that the town is a long way from bringing in water from the new well sites. "It takes a minimum of 90 days to review the application," he said.

But Ploughe thinks the Forest Service will eventually give the town permission to drill.

"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 archaeological or other reasons why we couldn't drill and tried to avoid them."

Schum said the application is the beginning of the third phase of the town's water exploration efforts in the Tonto National Forest. Ploughe explained the town's earlier efforts:

Phase 1 was in the Snowstorm Mountain area down Doll Baby Road south of town. "It was the first area the Forest Service allowed us to work in, and we didn't find much," he said. "The geology wasn't conducive."

Phase 2 was immediately north of town. "We identified numerous general areas and then went to the Forest Service and asked them which one we should start in to avoid environmental and other issues," he said. "We did find one good well, and it's undergoing additional testing."

Ploughe said people don't realize how much activity is going on behind the scenes. "We have really been out there doing stuff the last couple of years," he said.

Each exploratory well can cost up to $15,000 to drill. The proposed budget contains $400,000 for national forest groundwater exploration,

The town does not own its own drilling equipment. Instead it contracts with a local firm for drilling services.

"We can go as deep as 2,000 feet, but most wells are typically between 800 and 1,000 feet," Ploughe said. "The odds are that below 760 feet, opportunities decrease. But we've disproven that a couple of times, and that's why we go for it."

If the town finds a large cache of water, the town will move into a new phase of water development.

"We would do a lot of testing, and an environmental impact study," Ploughe said.

"Then we'd have to renew the lease to operate the wells on a per-site or per-project basis." Water would be pumped to the town via pipeline at a cost of $100 to $150 per foot.

Voters would have to approve a bond issue to finance the project. "That's a statutory requirement," Underkofler said.

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