Town Imposes New Water Restrictions

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You can forget filling your pool, spa or wading pool this summer, and washing your car at home also is restricted under level 3 water conservation measures imposed by the Payson Town Council last night.

The restrictions, which take effect immediately, were approved as recommended in the 2004 water status report presented to the council by the water department. The report confirmed another year of decline in local water aquifer levels.

Under level 3 restrictions, car washing is banned except at commercial car washes or by high pressure washer, and the filling or refilling of pools, spas and wading pools is forbidden.

Level 2 restrictions also apply again this summer, including no new grass, no hosing sidewalks and driveways, no watering native plants, no watering between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and alternate day landscape irrigation according to street address.

Water department officials estimate that the implementation of level 3 restrictions will result in a 5-percent reduction in water use. The action is mandated by the town's new water conservation ordinance, which took effect March 1, 2003.

Under that ordinance, conservation stage levels are based on the previous year's rainfall rather than on the amount of water in storage tanks.

Drought continues

Rainfall totals for the 2002-03 water year covered by the report (April through March) indicate that Payson, like much of the Southwest, remains in a prolonged drought. While the long-term precipitation average is 22 inches, Payson received only 13.6 inches during 2002-2003 -- 38 percent below normal.

This marks the fifth straight year and ninth year in the last 10 that precipitation levels have been below average.

Precipitation totals for the past winter (November 2003 through March 2004, when aquifer recharge occurs) also were significantly below average, leading to yet another year of declining groundwater levels. For the past three years and five of the past seven years, groundwater levels have declined.

According to the study, a yearly decline in aquifer water levels indicates Payson is not in the ideal situation of ‘safe yield,' but is using water stored within the aquifer that may or may not be replaced in future years. Safe yield, the concept that the amount of water taken out of the ground be equal to or less than the amount put in, has for years been the guiding principle upon which the town's water policies are based.

Payson received 5.96 inches of precipitation this winter, compared to 14.5 during the winter of 1997-98, the last winter when significant recharge occurred.

Conservation working

There also was some good news in the water status report, particularly in the area of water conservation. Per-capita water use dropped from 99 gallons in 2002 to 90 gallons in 2003.

Per-capita water use has not been at this level since 1987. To further put this number in perspective, 187 gpcd (gallons per-capita per day) and above are typical values for the Valley communities.

Especially large declines in consumption occurred in March, April and May, immediately after the new conservation ordinance took effect, and again in August and September. Overall, consumption was down 7 percent in 2003 from the previous year.

As a result, groundwater consumption decreased to 92 percent of safe yield from a precipitous level of 99 percent in 2002. The decline of groundwater levels slowed from an average of 28 feet per year in 2002-2003 to 7.4 feet in 2003-2004 -- the direct result of the decrease in local water consumption from 2002 to 2003.

New water sources

The search for new water sources also continues, with some positive developments. While test drilling completed in August of last year at Doll Baby Ranch southwest of Payson was unsuccessful, drilling activities on the property of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District resulted in a new well that is expected to yield at least 100 gallons per minute, officials say.

The town also is moving closer to drilling test wells in the Diamond Rim area of the Tonto National Forest north of Payson. Geological mapping of an area larger than 50 square miles beneath the Diamond Rim is nearing completion, resulting in the development of an unprecedented amount of information that continues to support the proposed exploratory drilling of test wells within the study area.

The geophysics reinforces the town's original hypothesis for the potential of a large untapped aquifer system within the Diamond Rim fault system.

"Once we finished this last geotechnical study where we brought in the scientists from Tucson and used electrical resistivity and we actually saw the results, it really catches your attention," Public Works Director Buzz Walker said. "It isn't hit and miss. This isn't just a crap shoot."

Regional solution

The town also continues to participate in the Mogollon Rim Water Resources Management Study sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The study brings together in partnership the town, Gila County and the BOR to consider the complexities and realities of water supply solutions on a regional scale.

Walker said the emphasis for the coming year will be on getting better conservation compliance from some segments of the business community.

"I think the citizens, individually, have done a good job of pitching in, and that's where a lot of the water savings have come from," Walker said. "In my opinion, we haven't touched business hard enough. A lot of these businesses are corporate stores or are controlled by distant owners or franchises where the local manager doesn't have a lot of authority -- the fast food places, the banks, the motels. Maybe we need to get more specific with rate structures to target these businesses that either just don't get it or don't want to get it."

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