Agency Wants To Link P-S Water Systems

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Calling the water situation in Pine “critical” and “dire,” the Arizona Corporation Commission’s Utilities Division staff wants the commission to impose a total moratorium on new hookups and link Strawberry’s conservation stages to Pine’s.

In presenting these and other recommendations, the staff admitted that it had “overestimated” the ability of Pine Water Company to serve its customers in the area when it recommended allowing 25 new hookups per month on Nov. 16, 2001. The new recommendations will be considered at a public hearing yet to be scheduled.

Prior to the decision to allow 25 new hookups per month, Pine Water Company was limited to one hookup per month. Staff based the new recommendation to allow zero new meter connections and new main extensions on supply and demand.

“This is due primarily to the on-going water shortage problems experienced by Pine Water,” the staff wrote in a memorandum to commissioners. “To date, no long-term reliable water source has been developed by Pine Water.... It is staff’s opinion that until a long-term permanent water source is developed by Pine Water, adding new connections to this system will only make a critical supply situation even worse.”

The recommendation to link Strawberry water conservation stages to Pine’s is based on the fact that the two systems are physically connected through the Project Magnolia pipeline. Both Pine Water Company and Strawberry Water Company are owned by Brooke Utilities.

The memorandum reads:

“Specifically, at any given time, the curtailment stage of the Strawberry system should be one stage less than that existing in Pine Water whenever Pine Water is in any stage other than stage one. In other words, if Pine Water is in stage 4, Strawberry Water should be in Stage 3.”

Strawberry resident Bill McKnight, who leases a well on his property to Brooke Utilities, says residents who know about the recommendation are not happy about being linked to Pine. “Why tie us to Pine?” he asked. “I’m not trying to play one town against the other like some people are trying to do, but we’ve got the water and they don’t.”

Heather Murphy, public information officer for the corporation commission, explained that body’s rationale.

“It’s actually a possibility the chairman talked about before (in a public meeting) that if these two systems are truly interconnected, shouldn’t there be some relationship between what happens in Pine and what happens in Strawberry ...” she said. “They’re simply following logic: OK, we have a bad situation in Pine, what should the signal to the neighboring community be, and if everybody cuts back we might avoid the problem.”

Other recommendations contained in the staff memorandum call for the commission to:

  • Require Pine Water Company to file a detailed plan addressing the long-term solutions to its critical water situation.

“This plan should include such details as ... specific plant additions (raw water storage reservoir, new finished water storage tanks, use of Central Arizona Project water, interconnections with other water systems, new wells, etc.) and specific timeframes,” the report said.

  • Require Pine Water Company to file a full rate case using a Dec. 31, 2002 test year.

“This rate case could be used to develop some innovative rate design that would further promote conservation and/or provide the company with additional revenues by which to pursue solutions to the chronic water shortage problems,” the report said.

  • Require Pine Water Company to file a revised curtailment plan tariff.

“In layman’s language, what the commission is requiring all the water utilities that we regulate to do is submit in writing a plan to deal with water outages and shortages representing various degrees of seriousness,” Murphy said. “What actions the company will take in the event of an outage or shortage, everything from technical malfunctions to, ‘Hey folks, the water just isn’t there.’”

In the report, staff suggests that Pine Water Company might want to modify the tariff to allow implementation of mandatory curtailment measures in stage 4 instead of stage 5.

“Staff would not normally consider a measure such as this, except for the dire water situation in Pine,” the report said.

  • Require Pine Water Company to report regularly (on May 15 and Oct. 15 each year) to the commission on its progress in solving the water problem.
  • Require Pine Water Company to develop a customer education plan.

“Pine Water should be required to provide educational and informational material to its customers on a regular basis, e.g., quarterly,” the report said. “It is staff’s opinion that education is the key to making any conservation program effective.”

  • Require staff to submit a recommendation on continuing the moratorium no later than Dec. 31, 2005.

In excusing its decision to relax the moratorium to 25 new hookups per month, the staff report said it was based on water source production information available at the time and that the relaxation was “basically experimental.”

Exceptions to the new moratorium include:

  • Main extensions can be granted to customers who “provide Pine Water with a new source of water” of at least .5 gallons per minute per each residential equivalent unit.
  • Exceptions should be made for property owners who meet specific criteria to accommodate individuals who purchased land prior to Sept. 1, 2002, with the understanding that water hookups were available.

In a press release dated Nov. 25, Brooke Utilities objected to the commission staff’s proposals and promised to introduce some other solutions in the near future.

“Plain and simple, Pine does not have enough water to support the summer time population,” the Brooke release said. “It will take some radical change and bold risks to secure a stable supply a supply that can see the community through a typical Fourth of July weekend.”

McKnight is concerned that the corporation commission will schedule a hearing on the subject too soon to allow concerned residents to make plans to attend possibly as soon as Dec. 2. And he believes the meeting should be held in the Rim country rather than the Valley.

Murphy said the earliest a meeting could be scheduled is Dec. 17.

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