Pine Water Customers Return To Stage 5

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Just as Pine residents began to breathe easier, water conservation signs took a turn for the worse.

Back in Stage 5 as of Monday morning which means mandatory conservation Pine residents fear running out of water completely for a second time this summer.

Storage levels for the Pine Water Company fell to 240,000 gallons Monday morning, down from 450,000 gallons Friday. High temperatures, lack of rain and heavy traffic over rodeo weekend are contributing factors, Robert Hardcastle, president of Brooke Utilities said.

Brooke Utilities is a private water utility governed by the Arizona Corporation Commission, that operates the Pine Water Company, Strawberry Water Company and other smaller water companies in Rim country.

With storage levels in Pine still above 200,000 gallons, Brooke began hauling water Wednesday. A 6,000-gallon tanker is now shuttling water from the Starlight Pines subdivision on top of the Rim to Pine.

"We are hauling water out of an abundance of caution and trying to stay ahead of the customer demand curve and not repeat what happened earlier this summer," Hardcastle said.

In Strawberry, storage levels are at about 70 percent or 170,000-gallons. Water will be shipped to Pine via the pipeline, "when we are comfortable with the storage levels," Hardcastle said, stressing his intent not to drain one town for the other.

In Stage 5, residents are required to reduce indoor water use by 50 percent. There is no outdoor water use permitted, except for livestock. Failure to comply can result in fines and/or the removal of the water meter.

The battle brews

Years of water woes and battles in the Pine community have motivated area business owner Ray Pugel to gather a band of water-weary residents with the intent of finding a solution. This informal group, with the help of Gila County Supervisor Ron Christensen, is looking at the possibility of the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District becoming the water provider through a process of condemnation, Pugel said.

The group is still in the exploratory stage, he said. Condemnation is a process by which PSWID can forcibly purchase the water utility, becoming the provider. The process is played out in court and can take years to complete.

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