As the drought draws on, it's not just fire that Rim country residents are worried about. It's the lack of moisture, as well.
While Brooke Utilities' customers in Pine have been placed on an official conservation level Stage 4, the rest of the company's systems in Rim country are being asked to conserve minus the formal staging guidelines.
Brooke Utilities is the private water company that serves many of the outlying communities in Rim country including Pine, Strawberry, Mesa del Caballo, Whispering Pines, East Verde and Geronimo Estates.
"Arizona is in a critical drought situation throughout the state and I would urge all water customers on any system, any water customer in Arizona, to think twice about how you are using the precious commodity water," Heather Murphy, information officer for the Arizona Corporation Commission said last week.
The ACC has reissued the order for a water meter moratorium in Pine, limiting new water meter installations to one per month, based on this statewide drought. In addition Brooke Utilities has voluntarily shut down the pipeline, dubbed Project Magnolia, which connects the two water systems of Pine and Strawberry, Murphy said.
"(A total of) 855,000 gallons of water has been supplied by Strawberry through Project Magnolia since the first of the year," Robert Hardcastle, president of Brooke Utilities said in April. Most of this water was sent during the high demand periods of Presidents' Day and Easter, he said times when the population swells with 'weekenders' or residents with second homes in the Rim country.
As of May 11, Pine residents had gone a year and four months without any restrictions on their water usage, in part because of Project Magnolia. But as a result of diminishing water storage, Pine customers have been officially requested to adhere to voluntary water conservation measures, including reducing daily consumption by 40 percent. Outside watering should be completely curtailed and livestock should be watered only when necessary.
"Water conservation staging levels are dictated by the ACC. These are not arbitrary requirements established by Brooke," Hardcastle said. The next step is mandatory conservation or Stage 5, where the ACC gives Brooke Utilities the ability to fine customers who do not adhere to the conservation guidelines.
"Presently, available water storage levels have decreased," Hardcastle said.
Last Tuesday, Pine storage tanks were 53-percent full and up to 63 percent by Thursday, Hardcastle said. The holiday took it's toll, reducing the storage to 46 percent Monday morning. Typically Pine and Strawberry experience an increased population of people looking to escape the heat every weekend.
Meanwhile Strawberry residents have been left wondering about their water supply because of frequent outages in the past two weeks. At times, Brooke has reported to customers by e-mail that the Strawberry storage is "critically low."
"Daily water storage levels in Strawberry have varied from full to less than 40 percent of full over the last two weeks," Hardcastle said. "At the moment, water storage levels in Strawberry could be much better, but are comfortable. We want them to stay there."
On top of the drought, Brooke Utilities has had its share of equipment problems.
"We have had some mechanical problems with wells in Strawberry this year. Two wells were off-line for an extended period. An additional well had unknown debris poured in the well casing. (That) caused decreased production by nearly 36,000 gallons a day. (We hope to have) the matter remedied," Hardcastle said.
Strawberry resident Clay Ricker, who is uphill from the storage tank that serves his neck of the woods, said that last Saturday and Sunday he knew there was a mechanical problem.
"I went down (to the tank) and there was water in the tank but the pressure system that feeds us was not operating properly," Ricker said. About 13 homes are uphill from the tank and must be pressure fed the majority of water users are gravity fed.
Downhill from that tank and smack in the middle of Strawberry, the Windmill Corner Inn was experiencing low pressure, owner Cheryl Holland said.
Both have been reassured by the ACC that Brooke Utilities is doing all it can to keep the water flowing.
"We know the company has taken several prudent steps," Murphy said. "They are taking the steps necessary at least to the point that the commission is satisfied."
But the company cautions that this is still going to be a dry summer.
"It's no secret groundwater supplies have not been replenished during the winter," Hardcastle said. "That means the upcoming summer months are an especially important time for us to be diligent, careful, and prudent with every drop of water.
Because this is a statewide problem, there is no water to truck in, should any system run out, Hardcastle said.
"We are here to ensure that the company is providing adequate and reliable service," Murphy said.
The bottom line is that any water user in Rim country should take precautions each time a faucet is opened.
Water conservation stages
Stage 1 No water conservation measures are in effect.
Stage 2 Voluntary customer water conservation measures should be employed to reduce daily consumption by approximately ten percent (10%). Outside watering on weekends and holidays should be curtailed. Outside vegetation watering may occur during weekday periods on even days of the month for even numbered lots and odd numbered days of the month for odd numbered lots.
Stage 3 Voluntary water conservation measures should be employed to reduce daily consumption by approximately twenty-five percent (25%). Outside watering should be completely curtailed except for permitted livestock. Indoor water conservation techniques should be employed wherever possible. Restaurant patrons should be served water only upon request.
Stage 4 Voluntary water conservation measures should be employed to reduce daily consumption by approximately forty percent (40%). Outside watering should be completely curtailed and livestock should be watered only when necessary. Mandatory indoor water conservation techniques should be employed throughout customer residences. Restaurant patrons should be served water only upon request.
Stage 5 Mandatory water conservation restrictions are currently in effect pursuant to regulatory enforcement proceedings. Such regulatory restrictions may be in the form of moratoriums, curtailment orders, meter disconnection without notice or the like. Customers should confine themselves to not more than one-half of their usual indoor daily water consumption except for permitted livestock. No outside watering should be conducted. Restaurant patrons should be served water only upon request.