Leaders Renew Effort To Find Water

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A study proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will mark the first time the town of Payson and Gila County have worked together to find an answer to the Rim country's water woes.

If all goes as planned, the study could be under way by Oct. 1. Attorneys from both the town and county have looked over draft contracts and found no problems, Gila County District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said.

The Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District also has signed on as a partner in the study.

"Pine-Strawberry has been involved with the alliance, and other entities have been as well," Christensen said. "Now the town of Payson is coming on-line and this will be the first time we've had the complete coverage we need to have to solve the water problem for the entire area."

Buzz Walker, public works director for the town, called the study a necessary first step.

"It compiles and analyzes all the past water studies the town and county have done and updates them as far as price estimates," Walker said. "Then it looks at options available for new water supply and ranks them in terms of whether it makes any sense to look further. Then it identifies certain projects for a further look and possible funding."

Lynn Fisher, a planner in the Bureau of Reclamation's Phoenix office, outlined the project to the Payson Town Council earlier this year.

"Some of the alternatives we'll be looking at include bringing water up from Roosevelt, bringing water up from Fossil Creek, bringing water down from Blue Ridge, going deeper into the forest, water conservation and water re-use," Fisher said.

During the initial appraisal phase of the study, a project management team which comprises one representative from each of the partnering entities will examine and rate all the alternatives, Fisher said. An environmental impact study is an important part of the second, or feasibility, phase.

"By the time we're finished, we will have carefully evaluated each of the alternatives from an economic standpoint, an engineering standpoint, an environmental standpoint and a legal standpoint," Fisher said. "With this information in hand, plus a united region, your congressman will listen to you. He will know you have evaluated all the alternatives, examined the recommended solutions, done your environmental work. He will then help you with implementation."

Fisher said the bureau wants to have an agreement in place by Oct. 1, and that the study will take two to three years to complete. The federal government will pay half of the estimated cost of $600,000, with the participating government entities providing the balance.

Christensen said he talked with Payson Mayor Ken Murphy Monday.

"The mayor is very excited about this and very interested in moving these types of things forward and identifying those sources of water available to us and then finding the mechanisms to finance them and making the giant step that we need to make here to solve the sustainable water problems we have here," Christensen said. "Once we have completed this, the entire county will be very interested in it. We're anxious to get on with it."

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