On The Banks Of Blue Ridge

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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All of a sudden the world has turned upside down.

From living in a parched, drought-ridden community, the Rim country has, virtually overnight, found itself awash in, of all things, water.

But it's actually a story that has been unfolding for 30 years, according to Payson Public Works Director Buzz Walker. That's how long the town has cast a covetous eye on the Blue Ridge Reservoir.

For those of you who don't get out much, Blue Ridge is a "narrow, winding body of water" (according to the Coconino National Forest website) atop the Mogollon Rim near Clint's Well. Phelps Dodge Mining Company created it back in the late 1950s and early 1960s to provide water they could trade to Salt River Project for the water used in their Morenci mining operations.

At some point, Blue Ridge became expendable to Phelps Dodge, arousing the voracious appetites of every entity looking for water this side of the Rockies -- including 37 towns, 12 Indian tribes, and, of course, each and every one of the Valley's 379 golf course owners. Meanwhile Blue Ridge just sat there chock full of water.

Actually it didn't just sit there. It has become a popular fishing and camping spot. In fact, a Tonto National Forest sign next to the Blue Ridge pipeline near Washington Park proclaims: "Fishing and Recreation have benefited from this exchange." Unless, of course, you are on the hook end of that sport.

But the point is, Blue Ridge is on the verge of becoming ours -- at least about a third of it. Congress has passed legislation that will transfer Blue Ridge ownership to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, clearing the way (after a dozen or so agreements are negotiated) for 3,500 of its 8-10,000 acre-feet to flow to the residents of northern Gila County.

How lucky can the northern end of one county get?

But when it rains it pours -- literally. On top of the news that Blue Ridge is coming, 2004 has been, of all things, a normal rainfall year (as opposed to a succession of sub-normal years).

But don't get too excited. We won't see any Blue Ridge water for 10 years, and Walker assures us that this "normal" rainfall year is not a return to normal when it comes in the middle of a drought.

"I don't think it's a buster," he said.

Rather, it's what learned people call an anomaly (or is it "an omaly"?)

In fact, Town Manager Fred Carpenter believes the town should leave its conservation ethic right where it is -- no wading pools, no grass, no washing the car. Walker agrees.

"I think we'll pretty much stay the course," he said.

Good idea. If there's one thing we've come to know about droughts, it's that we don't know much. But historic patterns suggest this one could be a doozy, and we were told from the start that it would be punctuated by the occasional "normal" year.

The bottom line is that water is a precious resource that cannot be wasted -- anywhere in the world. Even in the Valley, which just added its 380th golf course as you were reading this column.

To compound the problem, more and more people are bringing their wasteful habits up here -- for a weekend or a lifetime. So while it's still a manageable size, I propose we just pick Payson up and move it somewhere not so easily accessible from the Valley.

We would, of course, leave our own golf courses and all golfers behind. (Did you notice in the Roundup that Dave Roberts, manager of water rights and contracts for SRP, says that pumping by Chaparral Pines has dried up the "perennial flow" in Mayfield Canyon. There's an anti-golf testimonial from our own back yard.)

With all the house moving rigs it would take to move the town, we would create an entirely new industry, and Payson would become known as the house-moving capital of the world. The problem is where to go. It has to be far enough away to discourage the flatlanders, but close enough in so Wal-Mart will build us a new Supercenter (they're not real easy to move).

Wait a minute. Are you thinking what I'm thinking. If they can't get Blue Ridge to us, we could just go to Blue Ridge. Why wait 10 years for the water when we could just as easily set up shop on the banks of the reservoir itself.

Besides all the peace and quiet, we could all have lakefront property -- which should make everybody happy. Except, of course, the fish.

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