The moratorium on new water hookups in Pine that has been in effect since 1989 has been modified by the Arizona Corporation Commission to allow 25 new hookups per month over the next three years.
"It's progress," said Bob Hardcastle, president of Brooke Utilities, which owns Pine Water Company. "We're pleased."
The decision, which is effective immediately, means, in effect, that the moratorium is over, according to local Realtor Ray Pugel.
"Once we get past the waiting list, that means there is no moratorium," Pugel said. "I don't think they build 300 houses a year in Payson."
The decision was based on a number of factors, according to Heather Murphy, public information officer for the commission.
"The water situation has improved quite a bit up there," she said. "Pine has gone one full year with no curtailments, and that's an important threshold point."
In a position paper recommending approval of the request for modification from Pine Water Company, commission staff cited a commitment of $1.2 million by that company to improve the water supply. Among the improvements:
Project Magnolia An 8-inch diameter, 10,300-foot long pipeline connecting the Pine Water system to the system operated by the Strawberry Water Company. The pipeline can transport over 700,000 gallons of water daily between the two communities. Both companies are owned by Brooke Utilities, a California company that owns 26 water systems in Arizona.
Since 1996, Strawberry Water has drilled six new wells and Pine Water has drilled five new wells. Two other wells in Pine were re-drilled to greater depths.
Repairs to a leaking infrastructure have resulted in an additional 250,000 gallons per day.
Since 1996, Pine Water and Strawberry Water have added more than 100,000 and 170,000 gallons of storage capacity respectively.
The ruling by the commission specifying 25 new hookups per month forbids "carryovers."
"That means they can't do 30 hookups one month because they only did 20 the month before," Murphy said.
The decision also stipulates that Pine Water must submit semi-annual reports to the commission beginning June 30, and the commission reserves the right to reduce the number of new connections at any time.
New developments that require a main extension will be required to provide 110 gallons per capita per day under terms of the decision. That means main extensions will only be allowed if a private property owner "brings his own well with him," according to Murphy.
"This gives developers in the area, like Strawberry Hollow, an alternative to consider besides being in the water business," Hardcastle said.
The area served by Pine Water, which currently has about 1,900 customers, has historically been subject to water shortages in areas where groundwater is the primary source of water, according to the staff report.
"Groundwater in the Pine area typically flows through scattered rock fractures and is heavily dependent on replenishment from rain and snow melt," the report said. "Therefore, Pine Water's service area is susceptible to shortages in dry years and especially during the summer months when demand is highest."
Pugel expressed confidence that the relaxed moratorium will hold despite a dry winter to date.
"It's always a concern, but with the new resources Brooke has found I think we'll be fine," Pugel said. "We could end up having a wet summer."
Hardcastle agreed. "It's too early to be overly concerned about the dry winter the area is experiencing," he said. "But in the Rim country you always have to be concerned about dry weather conditions."
When hookup restrictions were first instituted in 1989, the area was served by E&R Water Company and Williamson Waterworks. The moratorium has remained in effect in one form or another since that time.
In 1996, for example, E&R was limited to one residential connection per month, with a complete moratorium on new main extensions.
With Strawberry Water's 979 customers, the two systems currently serve about 2,800 customers. The staff report estimates the combined systems "could adequately serve up to 3,605 customers" with Project Magnolia and the other improvements.
Pine Water currently has a waiting list for new connections of 243.
"It will probably take us a year to wind our way through the waiting list," Hardcastle said. "But at some point we'll catch up and be ahead."