In March 2003, the town implemented a tough new water conservation ordinance -- one that Payson Public Works Director Buzz Walker thinks is a major step.
"Water is easy to take for granted," Walker 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 aimed primarily at outside water use.
"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."
The new ordinance, which recently won the Bureau of Reclamation's Water Conservation Field Service Program Award, addresses the realities the town faces.
"(We enacted the new ordinance) to look out for the existing water supply and our existing customers," Walker said. "Almost every day you'll pick up the paper or a periodical or hear on the news the predictions of the experts for continued drought are gloomier and gloomier each day. We don't want to get into trouble, so that's why we're taking these measures now."
The new ordinance also mandates the establishment of yearly water conservation goals and appropriate measures to achieve them when precipitation levels for the previous year fall before the historic average of 22 inches. Such measures will be implemented immediately with the goal of reducing demand by a percentage equal to the percentage of shortfall.
Under the new ordinance, water waste of any kind is prohibited, as are new turf areas, artificial water features such as ponds and lakes larger than 50 gallons, plants that require spray irrigation and the use of misters. Charity car washes are encouraged to utilize commercial car washing facilities and automatic shutoff nozzles are required for all outdoor uses.
Walker recently provided the town council with an annual water consumption recap that showed water use had gone down 7 percent in calendar year 2003 compared to the previous year -- from 588,084,300 gallons to 548,600,700 gallons.
"We are now using water at a rate of 92 percent of safe yield versus 99 percent for 2002," Walker told the council. "The water-use figures indicate that our various water consumption strategies are on target and that we do not need wholesale changes in our implementation of these strategies into the near future."
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.
Town water resource specialist Jeff Durbin noted a corresponding drop in per capita consumption.
"We've got our water consumption down to about 90 gallons per day per person and that's incredible," he said. "The Valley average is 200 to 250 gallons per day per person."
Walker said Payson residents are finally beginning to accept the fact that the Southwest may be in the early stages of a protracted drought which experts predict will last a minimum of another seven to 10 years.
In the meantime, the search for new sources of water continues. Although the town's recent attempt to find water at Doll Baby Ranch was unsuccessful, Walker is moving forward on a number of fronts.
Here's a summary of current projects and developments over the past 12 months:
- New Sanitary District well site
A promising new well the town is drilling on Northern Gila County Sanitary District property is proving troublesome, but Town Water Resources Geologist Mike Ploughe remains confident.
"Anything we can find that's carrying some water, we're going to make it work no matter what it takes," Ploughe said. "It's just a matter of time."
Ploughe estimates the well could eventually produce at least 100 gallons per minute, but he is hoping for more. The town's top well in the Payson West area produces 850-900 gallons a minute.
It's not uncommon for high producing wells to be troublesome.
The town is also continuing its quest for permission to drill exploratory wells in the Diamond Rim area of the Tonto National Forest.
While working through the bureaucracy, the Forest Service allowed the town to conduct a non-invasive survey utilizing sophisticated technology to further delineate the groundwater potential of that area. Results are expected shortly.
"This won't find water; this will just define the most optimum places to drill," Walker said. "If we're not finding fractures or any type of aquifer down there at all, if the return signals are showing solid rock, we're out of there."
Blue Ridge Reservoir
The town is also participating in the regional water study organized by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Walker thinks that study will come to one conclusion -- that Blue Ridge Reservoir is at least a partial solution to the Rim country's water woes.
Located atop the Mogollon Rim near Clint's Well, Blue Ridge was originally built in 1963 by Phelps-Dodge to provide water for that company's mining operations.
"Blue Ridge can be the answer, but you have to know conjunctive water management," Walker said. "The biggest part of the equation is how do you use water every day? People who are not in public water supply don't understand that what you do every day is deliver.
"In years when we don't have enough supply and Blue Ridge is dry, how do you satisfy the demand? In years when we have excess, how do we take care of that water that would normally flow to the Gulf of Mexico and keep it in storage for other times?
"That's the conjunctive part of it and you have to see the whole picture. You have to get off groundwater the years you're on surface water, and when you're not getting surface you go back to ground."
Walker is optimistic about Payson's future.
"Name me a city that's ever run dry with local water sources available," he said. "When Williams got down to the last 10 percent of water in its reservoirs last year, they got a lot of attention and involvement from the federal government. That's how they're drilling those deep holes. Somehow the dynamics cause things to happen politically. It just has to happen."
Walker has a simple message for the people of Payson and the rest of the Rim country.
"We need to live within our means," he said. "It's not that somebody isn't looking out for their future interests every day, but there's a practical limitation on what we can do because the options are controlled by someone else."