Town Looks At Stepping Up Water Restrictions

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Payson's water tanks are staying full so far this summer, but town officials say it's time for residents to start conserving like many of their Rim country neighbors.

"We can meet current demands, but it's not prudent to waste water," Mike Ploughe, town hydro-geologist said. "So we're trying to get the word out that we all need to conserve water."

To that end, the water department plans to ask the town council next week to change the way water conservation stages kick in.

"Now there's a town ordinance that says we go to level 2 if there's a certain percentage drop in our storage tanks, and so on," Ploughe said. "But even though we're in a drought, our production capacity is holding."

Public Works Director Buzz Walker said his department is therefore asking the council to be a little more restrictive.

"The levels and the stages are not consistent now," Walker said. "We're going to ask the council to go to a level 2 right away, which the ordinance doesn't allow us to do. If the drought continues, our water supply will last a little bit longer, so it's the smart thing to do."

Currently, the town is at level 1, which simply encourages minimizing waste. Level 2 institutes a number of water restrictions, including an odd-even street address system for outdoor watering, washing vehicles, hosing sidewalks and driveways, and for construction and other water-consuming activities.

While Payson's conservation stages are similar to those used by Brooke Utilities and other local water companies, they are different enough to cause confusion.

To help residents understand what the restrictions mean, the water department is running a series of advertisements designed to keep the community abreast of current restrictions.

"We are going from general knowledge ads to water awareness ads," Jeff Durbin, town water resource specialist, said.

Other town conservation initiatives in various stages of implementation include:

The installation of waterless urinals in public places like schools, parks and public buildings.

So far 24 of the new urinals, expected to save more than 1 million gallons of water a year, have been installed. While the no-flush devices resemble conventional fixtures, there are no handles to touch, no sensors and no moving parts.

"We want to get the message out that they work," Walker said. "Anybody can try them and see them when they're in public buildings."

Making low-flow toilets and other fixtures more affordable.

"We're developing a relationship with the Bureau of Reclamation on a multi-year plumbing fixture changeout program," Walker said. "That's a big program. They've been doing it in southern California for about 20 years."

Walker said today's low-flow toilets, which use about 1.5 gallons per flush compared to five gallons used by older fixtures, are a great improvement over the first such fixtures on the market.

"The new ones are amazingly efficient like an airplane," Walker said. "When it goes, it goes."

The changeout program will be multi-phased, with some homeowners qualifying for an outright grant, while others qualify for a 50-percent rebate.

"We will even have some one-year, no-interest financing available, so people will only pay about $6 a month," Walker said. "We're trying to make it easy for people to get into it."

For a limited time, the town also is offering its water conservation kits free of charge. The kits which include a low-flow shower head, low-flow aerators, high efficiency toilet flapper valve and other water saving devices is designed for homes built before 1993.

"If people need help installing them, they can call me up and I'll be right there," Durbin said. "We'll help any way we can, and it's completely free."

The town's public education campaign, which includes presentations to students and groups continues. Durbin said he has seen 1,200 students so far this year.

The "Rehang It!" program also is ongoing for re-use of hotel towels and the "Just ask for a glass of water" program for restaurants.

Walker said he is not surprised by the current drought conditions.

"It's history," he said. "Back in 1977, when I graduated from high school, my parents owned the Ox Bow. One night some guys who hung out there from United Utilities took me with them when they got a call that this system was out of water. It was East Verde Park. The first job I had was hauling water to Geronimo Estates up by the Boy Scout camp. They had a 'no watering' rule out there that was in effect for 20 years.

"Whispering Pines was always running out of water, and Pine is the same way. This is nothing new, but it's also proof that even in the most dire circumstances you never run completely out of water. When Webber Creek or the East Verde stop running or have reduced flows for awhile, (nearby communities) dry up within 12 months. If you have a wet winter and it roars real good for three or four months, you'll be OK for three or four years. That's just the history of things up here. It's predictable."

Walker said Payson's relative immunity to water shortages compared to other communities is directly related to the town doing its homework.

"The only (community) that isn't in trouble is the one that's done a lot of planning, a lot of investigation, a lot of public information and has a handle on it," he said. "That's right here."

Unfortunately, Payson residents also are using more water now than they did a year ago, with consumption in April at 49 million gallons, compared to 36 million last April.

It's a trend the three water officials said needs to be reversed, and that's why they're asking the town council for help.

"The bottom line," Durbin said, "is that every drop counts. And people need to realize that by saving water, they also save electricity and gas."

Town of Payson Conservation Levels

Level I: Water Awareness

Water users are specifically encouraged to minimize waste in water used for irrigation, vehicle and pavement washing, construction and other water consuming activities.

Level II: Water Restrictions

No person shall irrigate, wash vehicles, fill or refill pools, spas or wading pools except on even- and odd-numbered days according to street addresses.

Level III: Water Emergency

In addition to the restrictions above, no person shall fill or refill pools, spas or wading pools, irrigate golf courses, wash vehicles, paved areas, use fire hydrants, or irrigate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Level IV: Water Crisis

No person shall use any potable water for irrigation, use fire hydrants, wash pavement, fill or refill pools, spas or fountains, use potable water for dust control, or use potable water in violation of any other restriction deemed necessary by the town council. Violators can be fined and/or have their water service suspended.

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