New Ripple In Pine Water Woes

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A new interpretation by the Arizona Corporation Commission staff has added yet another element of discord to the water situation in Pine.

The controversy revolves around a moratorium on new water hookups originally imposed by the commission in 1989 on E and R Water Company. When Brooke Utilities acquired E and R and two other Pine water companies from Williamson Waterworks in 1996, the three systems were isolated from one another.

"Brooke reorganized (in 1998) and tied all three systems together (as the Pine Water Company), which is a good thing," Heather Murphy, commission public information officer, said. "It bolsters the design of the whole system."

But the commission staff has now decided that when the three systems were combined into one interconnected system, the moratorium on new hookups should have been expanded to include all Brooke customers instead of just former E and R customers.

"Effective at that point when that decision was made and ADEQ put them under one system number the moratorium should have applied to all," Murphy said. "That's because all of the service territory is now potentially affected by overdrawing in one area or another."

The interpretation by commission staff was not an issue while Brooke Utilities' Pine customers were under Stage 5 water restrictions a level at which all new hookups are prohibited. But recent rains and the end of the summer tourist and weekender seasons have eased the situation to the point that Brooke's Pine customers are now at Stage 3.

While Brooke has a new hookup waiting list of about 200, those immediately affected by the commission staff's interpretation of the moratorium are six to eight customers who are in various stages of buying lots in Pine with the understanding that they will be hooked up to the system.

"These people bought lots fully expecting to get a meter and are now at the bottom of a waiting list," a Brooke Utilities spokesperson said.

If the commission staff's interpretation holds, new hookups will be limited to one per month. Service areas that would be placed under the moratorium include the subdivisions of Portal I, II and III, Hidden Pines and Solitude Pines.

The commission will attempt to sort the problem out at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17. That meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. at 1200 W. Washington in Phoenix.

Regardless of the commission's decision, Murphy emphasized the need for water conservation throughout Pine.

"Everybody in that entire community needs to look at their water use and the way they utilize this precious commodity," Murphy said. "They know there are going to be problems from time to time."

Some Pine residents are supplied by the Pine Water Users Association, a small water district which is not under the commission's jurisdiction. Three other small water districts service Portal IV, Solitude Trails and Strawberry Hollow, and some Pine residents are on private wells.

The area served by Brooke, which currently has about 1,900 customers, has historically been subject to water shortages

"Groundwater in the Pine area typically flows through scattered rock fractures and is heavily dependent on replenishment from rain and snow melt," a recent commission 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."

According to Murphy, Pine's shortages are the most critical in the state.

"We have other areas that periodically have problems like Oatman and New River, but Pine is the most critical right now," she said. "That's in large part due to the fact that snowfall was minimal last winter. Pine doesn't have a good water supply, and it's never going to have a good water supply unless you bring in some artificial means surface water or something."

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