Payson Initiates Tougher Water Conservation Policy

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In a year when precipitation only reached about one-third of normal, the town of Payson took significant steps to protect its most precious resource.

In April, the "Town of Payson Groundwater Management 2002 Status Short Report" revealed that the town's water supply was holding its own, despite the driest winter recharge season on record. The study concluded that "current production capabilities are sufficient to meet demands for the 2002 summer season even amidst the worst winter drought recorded."

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Jeff Durbin of the town of Payson Water Department sits amid some of the old, water-wasting toilets that have been replaced -- courtesy of the town -- by new high-tech, low-flow Japanese toilets that will help save water.

But to be safe, the water department began drawing up a drought emergency plan to aid in managing the water supply through conservation requirements in times of drought.

"With drought conditions persisting, the conservation of our water supplies becomes increasingly important," the report said. "Many cities and towns implement mandatory conservation measures in times of drought."

With the onset of summer, Pine and other surrounding communities began to experience water shortages. Many Pine residents were, in fact, without water for extended periods of time.

While Payson's water tanks were staying full, town officials announced that it was time for residents to start conserving like many of their Rim country neighbors.

"We can meet current demands, but it's not prudent to waste water," Mike Ploughe, town hydrogeologist, said. "So we're trying to get the word out that we all need to conserve water."

To that end, the water department asked the town council in June to change the way water conservation stages kick in.

"Now there's a town ordinance that says we go to level 2 if there's a certain percentage drop in our storage tanks, and so on," Ploughe said. "But even though we're in a drought, our production capacity is holding."

Public Works Director Buzz Walker therefore asked the council to be a little more restrictive.

Level 2 institutes a number of restrictions, including an odd-even street address system for outdoor watering, washing vehicles, hosing sidewalks and driveways, and for construction and other water-consuming activities.

The new restrictions were implemented June 13, but were largely ineffective as consumption climbed to record levels during the summer. Water usage, in fact, increased every month during 2002 over the same month in 2001.

When the restrictions were lifted in November, Walker emphasized the continuing need for prudent water use.

With the critical summer season finally over, Walker turned to the drafting of a new water conservation ordinance based on the previous year's rainfall that would serve as a key component of the drought emergency plan.

When finished, it was approved by the council and took effect March 1, 2003.

The 12-page ordinance replaces one that delineated conservation stage levels according to the amount of water in storage tanks. It represents a major step for the town, Walker noted.

"Water is easy to take for granted," he said. "We haven't had anything but advisory restrictions, and we're taking the next step now to protect what we have."

The new ordinance is primarily aimed at outside water use.

"What the average customer will notice is the restrictions on water use outside the house," Walker said. "The major aspect is that if we don't get an appreciable amount of rain from now until April to bring our yearly total up, this ordinance keys the water-use restrictions so that what we use each summer is what we got last winter.

"We're into our reserves and we have been for a number of years, so what the average person will see if we don't get a really wet spring is restrictions put into effect that vary anywhere from alternate day plant watering to no plant watering and no car washing. (No outside watering) is a distinct possibility if we don't get a lot of precipitation."

Increasingly grim long-range forecasts and a relentless growth in consumption caused the town to take action when it did.

The town also introduced a low-flow toilet replacement program in 2002 using a high-quality Japanese toilet made by Toto.

"We're replacing old toilets in houses built before 1991 with the best toilet made -- and it's absolutely free," Jeff Durbin, town water resource specialist, said.

The new toilets use 1.6 gallons of water per flush, a savings of at least two gallons over older models. According to a cost-effectiveness study conducted by the town, the average household can operate the new Toto toilet on $45 worth of water a year, compared to $110 for older models.

"The bottom line," Durbin said, "is that every drop counts."

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