Town Studying New Conservation Guidelines

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With another disappointing monsoon season winding down, the town of Payson plans to look at a new mandatory conservation program and water rate increases now being developed by water department officials.

"The current conservation ordinance is based on how much water we can pump to meet a rising demand," Buzz Walker, town public works director, said. "That just means if we can do a really good job of drilling a lot of wells and putting big pumps in them, we can meet demand even in real tough times like this summer but it doesn't acknowledge the fact that you're just using stored water."

The new ordinance also will be keyed to current supply and reflect precipitation deficiencies.

"If precipitation is down by, say, 20 percent, then starting in May we should implement whichever water conservation stage measure it will take to achieve a 20-percent reduction in demand," Walker said. "That way, our conservation efforts are keyed to how much water is left in the ground rather than to how quickly we can pump it out."

With the exception of the decline in production of some wells, the town survived the summer in relatively good shape.

"It was a fairly uneventful summer," Walker said. "Tanks were always at 90 percent or above of storage capacity, but we did notice a decline in production just due to the fact that as you lower the levels in the wells, the production decreases. So there have been some production decreases due to the drought."

The current conservation program is not producing results with which Walker is comfortable.

"People are still watering outside and the little lines (on usage charts) just keep going up," he said. "We hit some record highs this year even though we had record dry weather, and you just can't ignore that."

To help address the problem, water rate increases that are broad in scope will also be proposed to the council in the near future.

"There will probably be some increased water rates for high-end users, and for some of the low-end users that have not been affected to date," Walker said.

The storms that doused the Rim country early last week dropped a total of 1.62 inches of precipitation, bringing the total for the year to 5.55 inches, Anna Mae Deming, Payson's National Weather Service observer, said.

Normal annual precipitation for Payson is about 22 inches.

Deming said that since she has lived in her Main Street home, a meadow across the street had never been totally dry until this year.

"We've lived here 62 years, so it is dry," she said.

Because of continuing drought conditions, Walker plans to leave Stage 2 restrictions in place for the time being.

"The same logic we used when we implemented (Stage 2 restrictions) is still prevalent," he said. "We're way deficient in rainfall, and we're taking more water out of the ground. It's really the time of year it shouldn't have much impact on people because, obviously, the growing season is almost over."

Other steps being taken by the water department include:

A new study in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District and Gila County.

"It compiles and analyzes all the past water studies the town and county have done and updates them as far as price estimates," Walker said. "Then it looks at options available for a new water supply and ranks them in terms of whether it makes any sense to look further. Then it identifies certain projects for a further look and possible funding."

Walker hopes to get the final OK on the study at this Thursday's town council meeting. If that happens, the study will actually begin sometime in October.

A new program that replaces older toilets in homes built before 1980 with water-saving low-flow toilets.

"We're still working out some details but that program should launch sometime in October. It will be funded by the water department with matching funds from Bureau of Reclamation."

The town also assisted the county in providing drinking water to outlying areas suffering shortages.

"We provided some for Beaver Valley when they took a tanker out there," he said. "After that, I said, 'Hey, if you need help, call one of our guys and they'll help you."

Deming said there are some early indications that we could have a wet winter.

"Beginning in November, we're supposed to be getting more el Ni she said. "It's not going to be a great big, big thing, but in November, December and January it is predicted that we will have plenty of weather, and that's when we need it because it is the snow that keeps our streams and rivers and everything running and fills the lakes and things like that."

Deming also questions those who say we are in a protracted drought cycle, pointing out that precipitation was near normal just three years ago.

She also emphasized that her reports are the official source of weather information in the Valley. She said public access television Channel 4 and some other broadcast outlets are displaying inaccurate information.

"I have a degree in meteorology and have been with the National Weather Service since 1948," she said. "I have all the equipment here in my back yard. I'm the only official in Gila County with the National Weather Service. In an arid area, we have to be grateful for every drop, and I measure every drop."

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