Pine Water Situation Bleak, Says Brooke

Commission to discuss options Monday

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Pine and Strawberry residents who want input on the water hookup moratorium and other recommendations regarding the two water systems need to attend an open meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 2 in Phoenix.

The meeting, which will be held in the commission’s main hearing room on the first level at 1200 W. Washington Street, could last all day depending on “who speaks and how long the commission lets them speak,” according to Heather Murphy, ACC public information officer.

“These meetings can go into the wee hours of Monday evening,” Murphy said.

Other items on the agenda, which Murphy described as “relatively sparse,” include a water rate increase for Litchfield Park and discussion regarding Qwest’s delay in implementing wholesale rate changes ordered by the commission.

Murphy recommends those who wish to speak limit their remarks to about three minutes.

“If everybody condenses their thoughts they wish to communicate to about three minutes, the commission won’t have to force the time limit,” Murphy said.

On the table will be a series of recommendations by the commission’s utilities division staff aimed at assessing, monitoring and addressing the water situation in Pine. The staff’s report refers to that situation as “critical” and “dire” and admits that it previously overestimated the ability of Pine Water Company to serve its customers.

The recommendations

  • A total moratorium on new water hookups, which would rescind a decision made Nov. 16, 2001, to allow 25 new hookups per month.

“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 report says.

  • Linking Strawberry’s water conservation stages to Pine’s based on the fact that the two systems are physically connected through the Project Magnolia pipeline.

“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 1,” the report says. “In other words, if Pine Water is in Stage 4, Strawberry Water should be in Stage 3.”

  • Requiring Pine Water Company to file a detailed plan addressing the long-term solutions to its 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 as to when these additions will be operable,” the report says.

  • Requiring 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 says.

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

“In layman’s language,” Murphy said, “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 hat 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.

  • 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 says.

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

Recommendations opposed

Brooke Utilities, which owns both Pine and Strawberry water companies, issued a press release indicating its opposition to the recommendations. A spokesperson for Brooke said the company intends to introduce alternative recommendations of its own and that the company hopes to compromise with the commission at the meeting Monday.

“We see a glimmer of hope, and we hope to persuade the commissioners to our way of thinking,” the spokesperson said. “We’ll pick and choose our battles.”

In the press release, Brooke’s assessment of the Pine water situation was bleak.

“Plain and simple, Pine does not have enough water to support the summer-time population,” the Brooke release said.

Murphy concurred.

“The water situation in these communities is precarious,” she said. “There are shallow, isolated pockets of water, and the geography of the area (makes it) very much dependent on winter snowfall.”

Both Murphy and Brooke Utilities emphasized that major decisions will probably not be made at the Monday hearing.

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